There are few secrets when teams line up to play against an Oakland Mills boys soccer team under the leadership of legendary coach Don Shea. The Scorpions don’t care much for dominating time of possession, and don’t expect them to play the same formation throughout the game. It’s among many methods that have helped Shea and the Scorpions remain one of the best teams in Howard County for decades, but opponents argue their style isn’t the right way to play the game.
Shea has long heard whispers about it.
“There is actually a method to our madness,” Shea said after Oakland Mills’ 2-0 victory at Wilde Lake in a 2A South region playoff game Tuesday afternoon. “We do play for corner kicks, we do play for our set pieces. Every goal that England scored in the World Cup was off set pieces. Everyone loved Iceland and their long throw-ins. ‘You don’t play real soccer,’ I hear. I don’t know what the heck you want me to do. We play with what we have ... and we have a lot of athleticism and traditionally we play with a lot of heart.”
Agree with the Scorpions’ style or not, it’s hard to argue against Shea’s seven state titles at the Columbia school. And more recently, Oakland Mills won 10 games in 2017 and went toe-to-toe with eventual 2A state finalist River Hill in the playoffs before falling in penalty kicks.
On Tuesday, Scorpions senior James Casseus scored the first goal of the contest in the 15th minute, and Amari Jangha doubled the Scorpions’ lead with 13 minutes to play. They did what they have always done to defeat the Wildecats: rely on set pieces and then hold their lead with suffocating 11-man defense to capture their ninth shutout of the year and second of the playoffs.
It’s Oakland Mills’ (11-5) seventh straight victory and Shea’s first against Wilde Lake (10-3-2) since his son Trevor, who won three state titles playing for his father at Oakland Mills, became the Wildecats head coach in 2016.
“I didn’t think about it, seriously,” Don Shea admitted after the game. “Someone told me after the game, ‘You’re 1-3 against your son but you won the one that counts.’”
Casseus, who had 10 assists last year and 14 in 2016, started the first two games of the season as the team’s starting goalkeeper, where he played as a freshman on JV, but has since been vital as the team’s forward. His long throw-ins, however, have long been key to Oakland Mills’ success, as he can throw the ball nearly 30 yards on the fly.
“I’m a Shea player,” Casseus said. “I have to play everywhere and I did my part when I’m on the field. He played me everywhere because he knows I have the ability to, and now it shows.”
He wreaked havoc on Wilde Lake in the first 25 minutes of the game with a number of long throw-ins that created scoring chances, but he struck first on the counter attack. Thomas Kato sent a through ball up the left side of the field, and Casseus managed a touch and outran a Wildecats defender before perfectly placing his right-footed shot into the far-side of the goal.
“That’s the first time we’ve scored a goal on them in like three years,” Casseus said, “so I came in with the mentality of trying to do my best, and it showed on the field.”
Wilde Lake responded by getting several chances in the final 15 minutes of the first half but went into the break trailing by a goal. The push continued in the second half. Kofi Bonsu had the Wildecats’ best scoring chance as he found a bouncing ball in the box but couldn’t settle it and get a shot on net. It sailed high and wide, and less than two minutes later, Zain Kazi’s powerful corner kick found the head of Jangha and made it 2-0.
“He’s had that header against Centennial, he had that head against Reservoir, he’s had it all year,” Shea said of Jangha. “... We knew coming into the year that we had a lot kids who can score on headers.”
The Wildecats started the season 8-0 but stumbled down the stretch, going 2-3-2 in their last seven games. Trevor Shea said Oakland Mills used a different formation than they expected at the start of the game, which played a part in his team’s slow start. Once they trailed by a goal, he said, their style of play didn’t matchup against the tough Oakland Mills defense.
“Playoffs is just different,” he said. “It’s a different approach to the game, a different style you could say. It just wasn’t in the cards tonight. ... [Oakland Mills] had discipline. I don’t want to say my team lacked that, but we weren’t at the same level.”