An established power with six Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference championships already won, the McDonogh boys soccer program has had many quality teams and remarkable players.
But the 2013 Eagles have a chance to be special. With a 4-0 home win over No. 5 Gilman in Wednesday's MIAA A semifinals, the Eagles improved to 20-0-1 and kept alive their chance to go undefeated for the first time.
That decisive comes on Sunday, when McDonogh plays No. 2 St. Paul's — a 3-0 winner over Archbishop Curley in Wednesday's other semifinal — for the conference championship. Game time is 5:30 p.m. at Archbishop Spalding.
The Eagles soundly defeated St. Paul's, 4-0, on Sept. 11, before the Crusaders came back to earn a 3-3 tie in the teams' second regular-season meeting on Oct. 28.
In what has become the norm this season, the Eagles dictated play most of the way on Wednesday, getting a goal from standout forward George Campbell late in the first half and getting an insurance goal from junior midfielder Moose Momoh with 26 minutes left before junior midfielder Connor Smith tacked on two late goals to ice the win.
McDonogh coach Steve Nichols, in his 17th season, said this season's dominance is due to a combination of quality and quantity, starting with the gifted one-two punch of Campbell and Smith.
"We're better around the whole field than we've ever been," Nichols said. "We have a lot of really good soccer players that play a good style and keep the ball well. And when you have guys like George and Connor that can bite you at any time … it's pretty hard to defend against."
The Greyhounds, who finish the season with a 10-8-3 mark, mostly sat back on defense and tried to find offense on counter and free kicks. With the game still scoreless midway through the first half, Gilman senior Sam Wancowicz sent a heavy shot from 25 yards that McDonogh goalie Calvin Livingston made a fine save on.
Down 1-0 early in the second half, the visitors had a shot cleared off the line and a couple consecutive corner kicks, but were unable to get the tying goal. The Eagles, always pushing forward and creating chances, finally were able to take complete control when Momoh made it 2-0 shortly after Gilman's chances.
For the first time in four years, Gilman won't reach the title game.
"We were one bounce away from tying the game up and having momentum," Gilman coach Jon Seal said. "If you're going to beat a team like [McDonogh] — and nobody has this season — you have to establish momentum and when you do, you have to take advantage when you have it.
"They do a very good job of pinching you in and really sucking the soul out of you because they can possess the ball better than anyone. This is the toughest conference in the country, and when you go 20-0-1 against the competition they have faced, that's a tribute to that team."
For the Eagles, a chance to win another championship and gain some redemption against the Crusaders comes on Sunday.
"It's really just a great bond this year," Campbell said. "Through the offseason and coming into pre-season, we really just became a family. You can obviously tell on the field where we can keep the ball, we play well, and we know what we're doing when we're playing together."
"I think on any given day in this league, any team can win. But I think if we come with our best effort and we have the emotion and energy in it, we're a very difficult team to beat."
IAAM A semifinal
1 McDonogh 4, 5 Gilman 0
Goals: M – Campbell, Momoh, Smith 2
Assists: M – Akinlosotu 2, Ebel
Saves: G – Wittich 7; M – Livingston 4
Half: M, 1-0