Langley’s second-half surge sends it to another boys’ soccer title game

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Langley Coach Bo Amato has an unchanging approach to halftime: No matter the game, no matter the situation, he gives the first half of the break to his players to talk among themselves.

On Friday afternoon, at halftime of the Class 6 semifinal, the players talked about patience. The Saxons had controlled the run of play against Landstown, but the match was scoreless. The locker room featured plenty of frustration and a bit of anxiety.

“We had to turn the frustration into motivation and trust that we were doing the right things,” senior defender Billy Oh said. “It was about being patient. We had to keep probing.”

The Saxons emerged from the locker room with a renewed energy and produced three second-half goals in a 3-1 win. They will face James River at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday at Freedom (South Riding) for a shot at the third state championship in program history and first since 2017.

“There was a bit more energy to get to the ball first in the second half,” Amato said. “And once you get that first goal it settles people down.”

Oh scored the Saxons’ first two goals, with the first coming just a few minutes into the second half. Langley goalkeeper Amr Areikat sent a long punt bouncing toward the goal, and the senior defender headed it home.

“[Areikat] caught the sweet spot, and off it went,” Amato said. “He had a little wind assist, but, yeah, he really caught hold of one.”

Landstown leveled the game in the 56th minute, but Oh delivered on another header to restore the Saxons’ lead with 10 minutes remaining. Shortly after, junior midfielder Aidan Connolly scored to seal the victory.

“In the second half we just kept it in their side. You could sense a change,” Oh said.

In the first semifinal of the day, also played at Freedom, McLean had a resilient playoff run end with a 3-2 loss to James River in sudden-death overtime.

The Highlanders, who emerged from the area’s toughest region by upsetting Oakton and Yorktown, clawed back from a 2-0 halftime deficit to send the game to extra time. But the magic ended there as the Rapids netted a golden goal to stop McLean just short of a title shot.

Class 5: Riverside rides scoring surge

The Riverside Rams wasted little time in showing just how excited they were to be in the Class 5 semifinals.

When the state tournament schedule was released, the program realized it could play a home game if it made it to the semifinal stage. Having achieved that goal, the Rams looked comfortable and confident as they put on a show for their home fans. They scored 13 seconds into the game and kept it rolling from there, pounding Hampton’s Kecoughtan High, 6-2, to earn a spot in Saturday’s Class 5 championship game.

“It was massive for us to be here at Riverside,” senior midfielder Alex Thissell said. “We all knew it was a special game, but we wanted to go out there and play like we normally do. Having our fans and students there was a big part of that.”

It was junior Jack Voci who started the barrage, gathering a rebound and poking it in before the Warriors could settle into the game.

“I think it was an intensity [Kecoughtan] wasn’t expecting,” Riverside Coach Kieran Harris said. “The boys wanted to go out and set the tone. And that’s exactly what they did.”

Junior midfielder Alex Balkey made it 2-0 in the 20th minute as the Rams (15-6) never trailed while posting one of their highest goal totals of the season. Five players found the back of the net.

“We were surprised by six,” Harris said. “We knew we could probably get a couple of them but not six.”

Riverside will travel to Briar Woods on Saturday to face Virginia Beach’s Cox High at 2:30 p.m. for the Class 5 title. This will be the second time the program has played for a state championship in the seven years since the school opened. The Rams won a Class 3 title in 2017.

“The next 24 hours is about rest, recovery, anything to keep our bodies staying healthy,” Thissell said. “The momentum from today is also huge to carry us to tomorrow.”

Class 3: Meridian moves on

In the Class 3 semifinals, the Meridian Mustangs punched their ticket to another state championship appearance with a 4-1 win over Cave Spring in Spotsylvania.

Meridian led 1-0 at halftime and pulled away after the break, scoring two goals in the first 10 minutes of the second half. The Mustangs’ defense has stepped up in the postseason — Friday’s conceded goal was the first in their past four matches.

Meridian (19-1-1), the defending Class 3 champion, is chasing the 12th state title in program history. Six of those titles were won by Coach Frank Spinello, who plans to retire after this season.

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