Perhaps George Mason University's soccer coach, Gordon Bradley, best describes the high school talent in the Washington area when he says, "It has become a soccer hotbed."
In recent years, partly because of the success on the national level by youth clubs, college coaches have frequented the area to recruit some of the most skilled players in the country.
This year should be no exception, with players from Maryland, the District of Columbia and Northern Virginia who could contribute to nationally-ranked college teams.
Although one area coach feels this is not a good recruiting year, Alden Shattuck, the coach at the University of Maryland, says, "Last year was a little lean. Two years ago was a good year. This year is like two years ago." And Keith Tabatznick, who coaches Georgetown University and the Maryland youth select team, says, "This year's crop is one of the best. It has the first good talent since three years ago when there were players like John Kerr (Duke University)."
A bulk of the talent lies in Maryland, where Curtis Pride, the strong and fast striker from Kennedy, is one of the leading scorers. He is considered to be the best player in the area.
Says University of Virginia Coach Bruce Arena of Pride: "He's a great athlete. He can jump and run. In terms of blue chippers, there aren't any, except maybe Pride."
Elsewhere in Montgomery County, other players scrutinized are Mark Dillon (midfielder, Wootton), Steve Kokulis (forward, Churchill), Irving Williams (midfielder, Woodward), Chris Trump (forward, Einstein), Tim Helmig (goalkeeper, Whitman) and John Stroud (midfielder, Rockville). Another senior, Fernando Mendonsa of Woodward, is second to Pride in scoring in Montgomery. But because he transferred this year from Brazil, he is relatively unknown among college coaches.
Along with Montgomery County, Columbia, Md., is a popular area for coaches to recruit. Centennial's Larry Valentine may be the best goalkeeper in the area. Shattuck says he's a "decisive" player that "may make an occasional mistake because he's so aggressive."
Oakland Mills has two other players frequently mentioned: forwards Darryl Simpkins and Junior Armstrong. Armstrong is a sophomore, so the recruiters will have to wait. "Armstrong is tactically brave," says Shattuck. "The difference between him and Simpkins is that Junior just goes out and beats people."
In Arundel County, two goalkeepers are getting mention: Warren Westcoat of Arundel and John Thomas of Arundel.
The District of Columbia may not be as deep in potential college soccer players, but there is one player who has caught the eye of a local college coach: Amir Parsa of French International. "He is the most skillfull player in the area, as good as any," says Tabatznick. In addition to Parsa, Ken Himmelman of Sidwell Friends is considered to have the speed and skills to play competitively at a major college.
Northern Virginia, which plays its games in the spring, has a top player in forward Paul Shaver of Lee High School. Last year, Shaver led the Lancers to the state championship, winning one playoff game with two long-range goals in the second half.
"The thing he has is the ability to take people on," says Shattuck of Shaver. "It can be a problem if a player forces things too much, but it's easier to teach someone when to take someone on or not if they have the skill."
Ireton's David Damiani is one of three players from Northern Virginia who competed this summer with the U.S. Youth Soccer Association Eastern Region I team. Gil Smith, the coach of Virginia's youth select team, says college coaches are interested in Damiani because he is "a clever player: on the field he has exceptional vision and is good at running without the ball. And he coordinates the team both on the defense and the attack."
Andrew Kress of Stuart may be the best defenseman in Northern Virginia, "a tall, strong player with very good speed and exceptional skills," says Smith. "He possesses the the ability to to play strong defense and create dangerous situations when he brings the ball up."
Lake Braddock's Mark Wayland, who has good technique at goalkeeper, was the third player on the regional team.
Many high school players in the area seem to fit well into a certain mold created by college coaches, who are interested in basic physical skills and a certain shrewdness on the field.
Pete Mehlert, the coach at American University, says he recruits players who are able to perform the "very basics," like the ability to pass long, short or "chip" over a wall.
"If I am able to see them play, then I look for decision-making . . . the psychological part of it," he says. "I like someone who stirs things up, shows enthusiasm."
Says Bradley, "I like to see a player who has an impact on the game, an awareness of his position or role. Understanding what the game is: self expression, improvisation, creativity. If he hasn't got skills, I'll bypass him."