Mike Monahan spent the first three years of his high school career representing Woodbridge, a school with as deep a soccer tradition as any in Virginia. The Vikings have been winning for more than 20 years, capturing two Group AAA championships and advancing to the state final a record seven times.
Last October, the midfielder jumped at the chance to give it all up. His family moved to within a mile of Forest Park, a two-year-old school also located in Woodbridge whose only soccer asset was its coach. That coach, however, is Ken Krieger, who won four state titles and two national championships and was 172-14-9 in nine years at Hylton before founding the Forest Park program in 2001.
"Forest Park was bringing a lot of people back," said Monahan, who said the short drive to his new school also factored in the decision to transfer. "And Krieger, he's a great coach. He knows how to pull a team together. I'm not sure how he does it, but he does."
Monahan seems to be joining the Bruins at the right time. Krieger's first Bruins team, carved from a smaller player pool than he enjoyed at Hylton, won one game in 2001. Last year, Forest Park won 11 and advanced to the Northwestern Region tournament. Now the team is ranked fourth in the area and is, in the opinion of some area coaches, a contender for a state title.
"Coaching in high school is like getting a deck of cards, and you have to put those cards in the right place," Krieger said. "Good players make good teams and good coaches make good players into great teams. And you have a demographic around Woodbridge that will always be competitive."
In describing his methods, Krieger says his goal is to build a "framework" for players. He refuses to rely on players from just one or two classes to carry the team in a given season, and he calls himself a voracious student of the game. "There is [no question] you could pose to me on the field that I couldn't answer," he said.
Players notice his bent for discipline -- whether it's his demand for exemplary behavior on and off the field, or his rules governing the color of athletic tape the players wrap around their socks. But players also say Krieger is steadfastly loyal and capable of building lasting personal relationships.
"Kids are a little intimidated by me because they know I'm very aware about the game and know how to break things down," Krieger said. "But they become comfortable because they know they can talk to me about anything, and I can break that down. It can come off a bit harsh, but the way I look at it, it's reality."
That atmosphere has attracted several good players to Forest Park, including second-team All-Met forward Ryan Sells (12 goals in 2002), a William & Mary signee whose family moved from Florida in 2001. Senior Billy Harris, who emerged last year as one of the most dynamic midfielders in the area, transferred from Hylton after his freshman year.
Defender John Mackey recently came over from Hylton and should shore up a back line compromised by the graduation of John Roth.
If things go well for the players, they could approach Krieger's goal for the season -- practicing on the last day possible.
"He's expanding my game to levels I wouldn't have even thought of," senior midfielder Brian Lockhart said. "We're a bunch of decent players. No national or really top-of-the-line players, but under his coaching a bunch of average players will become something special."