Throughout his tenure as Cuyahoga Falls boys soccer coach, Eric Ortopan has seen his program progress in fits and starts.
Those fits and starts continue, but the progress has been evident for the Black Tigers early this season.
After Ortopan read his team the riot act following its 5-0 loss to North Canton Hoover Aug. 23, Falls responded with a 7-2 rout at Barberton Aug. 27.
Falls may have shown even more progress in a 3-1 home loss to Brecksville-Broadview Heights Aug. 30 at home. It was both teams' opener in the Suburban League National Conference.
Falls record stood at 2-2, 0-1 in the National Conference as of press time.
Against Barberton, Falls' attack was relentless, as the Black Tigers outshot the Magics 16-4 and had a 10-2 edge in corner kicks.
Although Barberton scored the first goal, Falls got a hat trick from senior captain Zach Lias, which included a converted penalty kick.
Falls also got goals from junior Tristan Wright, senior Greg McDevitt and freshman Luke Feora, as well as an own goal, as a cross from Falls forward Drew Kull banged off a Barberton defender and into net.
Senior goaltender Tanner Treptow had three saves before being relieved by junior varsity keeper Tanner Guffin, who had two saves.
While his team lost to the Bees, Ortopan was happy with his team's effort.
"We played very well tonight," Ortopan said. "I'm seeing a lot of solid play. It shows growth from where we were at the beginning of the season. We'd like to more in the final third of the field, but who wouldn't?"
Falls was able to play a possession game at times against the Bees. The problem for the Black Tigers was Brecksville had the advantage in overall team speed. Also, Falls' set piece game was negated by a huge Bees' defensive line.
The contest was back and forth for the first 20 minutes, but Brecksville started to tilt the game in its favor afterward.
The Bees broke through in the 25th minute when forward John Tascar sent a crossing ball in, just over the heads of Falls' defense. The ball went to midfielder Jeff Firestone, who put the shot home at point-blank range to make it 1-0.
In the 37th minute, Brecksville used its size to double the advantage.
On a corner kick, forward Sean Sliter sent a high ball into the box. Bees defender Jerry Xu -- the tallest player on the field at 6-foot-4 -- out-jumped everyone and headed the ball home, making it 2-0 at halftime.
Brecksville's most dominant period of play came just after the half, as the Bees seemed to attack in waves.
Treptow played a key role in keeping the game close. He finished with seven saves on the night, several of which came in one-on-one situations.
"Tanner is one of the 11 on the field for a reason," Ortopan said. "He's going to be an asset to whichever college he goes to."
However, Treptow could do nothing to deny Tascar in the 63rd minute. Tascar made a great turn in the box and smashed the ball home to make it 3-0.
Although the Black Tigers were out-shot 10-3 by the Bees, Falls was able to prevent the shutout.
In the 76th minute, Lias took off on a run up the left side. He juked his defender, cut into the box and smashed a low shot past Bees goaltender Jake Shaheen to make it 3-1.
Shaheen finished with two saves. Breckville finished with a 7-2 edge in corner kicks."
"I'm proud of how we played tonight," Ortopan said. "The game did not get out of hand when it could have in previous years. There's room to grow, of course, but we will."
Falls was set to host Akron Firestone Sept. 3, but results were not available at press time.
The Black Tigers will travel to Wadsworth Sept. 6 at 7 p.m. before hosting Brunswick Sept. 10 at 5 p.m.