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Starting the season with four straight wins might not be much of an accomplishment to the top boys’ soccer teams in the region, but for W.T. Woodson it suggests significant change.

“In the past we weren’t so good,” said Matt Cumby, a senior defender. “We didn’t always work together or take [soccer] very seriously.”

John McAuley, now in his second year leading the Cavaliers, took the team in a new direction last season — to less than desire results. The Cavaliers finished 5-9-1, and during one particularly tough stretch, they lost four straight and were outscored 11-3.

“We decided to go young last season,” McAuley said. “We decided to build around a core of Michael Cherry, Matt Cumby and Scotty Patterson.”

After a 1-0 victory against South County on Tuesday night — a game in which the Cavaliers dominated possession and battled to fend off a late comeback attempt — the Woodson boys gathered around for a raucous victory cheer.

It seems that the team now is on course. Woodson has been the top team in the Patriot District so far this season.

“We took this game pretty seriously,” said senior Connor Mulloy. “Before the game we talked about [what the game meant]. We’ve been working hard and we’ve been working for this game throughout spring break.”

Patterson scored the game’s only goal late in the first half, after numerous shots sailed wide of the goal.

“The ball was played by one of the forwards and I started to move up to anticipate a header,” Patterson said. “So I moved in and the ball popped out to me. So I just decided to take a shot and it went in.”

In the second half, Woodson’s defense locked down South County’s offense. Goaltender Carlos Canas made five saves while earning a shutout, and was rock solid during a final 10-minute flurry by the Stallions.

Although Woodson played from behind this season in overtime wins against Yorktown and Centreville, the Cavaliers found themselves defending a lead for all of the second half.

McAuley said the challenge of defending a lead, not chasing one down, provided a good midseason test for a young team that’s still developing its chemistry.

“It helps to give us confidence that we can control a game and get the job done,” he said. “It was also the first time we played a full game. In our overtime wins, we didn’t always play for the entirety of the game. That’s something we needed to do.”

Woodson’s most recent win comes against one of the Patriot District’s better teams. While some teams load up their schedules with easy opponents as warm-up matches, the Cavaliers have faced a gauntlet — capped by South County.

“South County is a very good team that competed with a very good and well-coached Robinson squad,” McAuley said. “This was just a very tough, early season district game for us.”

McAuley is quick to remind his players that although the 4-0 record is a testament to their hard work, letting their guard down could jeopardize the strong start.

The players are mindful of their coaches words but, for now, the team is enjoying life at the top.

“We’re definitely a great team and we want people to be scared of us,” Mulloy said.

ralbers@fairfaxtimes.com