While it may be unusual for high school players to get red cards in a scrimmage, when the intensity would figure to be less severe than a regular-season match, Laurel High School head boys soccer Eric Ferguson wasn't apologizing for the behavior of his players.
In fact, the veteran mentor, whose team played two players down in the second half against Arundel High in late August in a friendly scrimmage, suggests that is only a sign of things to come this season for his squad.
"It is unusual, but at the same time we are going to be a physical team," Ferguson said. "That is what a lot of teams will expect from us. We will not be a dirty team, but a physical team. We will live with that."
The Spartans began the season at home with a 1-0 loss to High Point and are coming off their first losing season under Ferguson who is in his eighth campaign.
Next up is Northwestern on Sept. 12 in Hyattsville.
Nigrel Trim was the Gazette coach of the year last season as he led the Wildcats to the Class 4A South region title and a berth in the state semifinals.
The Spartans have shown in the past they can contend with the top teams in the county.
Ferguson led Laurel past county power Roosevelt 2-1 in a 2010 match and it was the first time in at least 15 years that the Spartans knocked off the Raiders.
But, the Spartans did not have the services of Kelly Marah in pre-season play this year due to academic problems. He was the top scorer for Laurel last season and was among the top players in the Prince George's County Class 4A league.
"I am not sure what is happening with that situation," said Ferguson, who does not know if Marah will be eligible to play this season.
But the Spartans do return last year's goalie, Jose Awa.
"He was our top goalie last year and he came in inexperienced. He spent the summer working on (his play) a lot. He is showing a lot of improvement coming back," Ferguson said. "I expect him to be a keeper that won't give up five or six goals."
Other returning starters for the Spartans are Alfredo Llinas, Ian Kisakye, Jeffrey Sanchez and Daniel Feddy.
One new face for Laurel is Edwin Hernandez, a transfer from Arundel High in Gambrills.
"He is a very good player," Ferguson said. "I think he will fit into the system we have."
"Defensively, we should be strong in the back," added the veteran coach. "The weakness may be in the middle of the field. We have young guys in the middle who are up from the junior varsity team."
Despite losing about half of his starting lineup, Ferguson has high goals for this season.
"Really, I am looking to go as far as I can. My bar is very high for this team," he said. "I want to win the county. I am setting the bar very high here."
Notes: Laurel High product Harold Ortega (goalie) is one of several local players with the men's team at Howard Community College. Others include Pallotti High grad Anthony Russo (defender), Hammond's Ian Evans (defender) and Elliot Quinteros (midfielder) and Atholton High grads Nicholas Bellamy (midfielder) and Brent Cook (defender/midfielder).