The central attacking midfielder is an integral part of a soccer team's offense.
That player must possess fantastic technical skills, a complete understanding of the game to be in the right position to spark the attack, field awareness to find teammates in scoring position and the wherewithal to finish shots on her own when necessary.
Usually those skills come with experience.
But holding that station for Winston Churchill High School's girls soccer team is freshman Juliana Comer. She scored the game-winning goal in the Bulldogs' 4-3, season-opening win against Paul VI Catholic (Va.) on Sept. 4.
“[Playing attacking midfielder] is unheard of for a freshman,” said 11th-year Churchill coach Haroot Hakopian. “Her game awareness and attacking ability is far superior to most freshman. She knows how to read the game, she anticipates, she distributes the ball phenomenally. We don't need her to come in and be the best player. She has come in and been extremely complementary to the other players. And the more programs that can do that the more they're going to get better.”
Comer is one of 18 members of the U.S. Youth Soccer National Champion Montgomery Soccer Club Coyotes Green U-14 team that have dispersed to nine schools countywide.
They are the next generation of Montgomery County soccer and are sure to lift the already competitive area to new heights, Hakopian said.
All 18 members of the team — two attend schools in Frederick County — have made the varsity rosters for their respective high school programs as freshmen and sophomores and have already proven to be impact players early in the season.
“To win a national championship, that's something special,” said Our Lady of Good Counsel coach Jim Bruno, who has two Coyotes players on his varsity team, forward Julia Abbott and defender Amanda Wilson. “It's not every year you get one team that has such an amount of talent. It's interesting, different years, different classes, it's funny the way the talent is. This freshman class across the board is very talented. And they're all floating around. You're going to see them everywhere, and they're going to be making an impact.”
Walt Whitman has perhaps benefitted the most with four Coyotes on its roster. Sophomores Clare Severe and Emma Anderson were a big part of the Vikings run to last year's Montgomery 4A South Division title and an undefeated regular season against Montgomery County Public Schools opponents.
Bethesda-Chevy Chase has consistently lost big-name players the last few seasons. But freshman midfielder/forward Paula Germino-Watnick has added a new dimension to the four-time defending state champion Barons this fall.
Germino-Watnick has excellent quickness, and B-CC coach Rob Kurtz said he is excited to see what she and three-year starter Eliza Doll produce once they become more familiar with each other's games.
“It's always good to know you have girls on your team who are winners, who have that winning mentality,” Kurtz said.
But unlike many elite-level soccer programs, the Coyotes are not limited to Potomac and Bethesda area schools.
Defender Deena DeSilva has helped Col. Zadok Magruder to its first 2-0 start in at least three years. The Colonels only won one game in 2011.
Poolesville consistently tests the county's top teams but Coyotes goalkeeper Kristen Darragh might be the missing link the Falcons needed to get back to the state tournament for the first time since 2008 and win their first state title since 2002.
One player can't carry a team, and Hakopian said it's important not to put so much pressure on young players to lead the way. But having that type of talent will only boost competition in practice and will hopefully encourage other young players to pursue club soccer opportunities.
Bruno, Hakopian and Kurtz said freshman classes like this one with the Coyotes players will help Montgomery County soccer continue to soar.
“I always joke with the players, the reason Churchill soccer is so good is because you get to practice and you have so much competition,” Hakopian said. “Now we have that training session, with some of the best soccer players in the county spread all over the place. And that is only going to make everyone else better and that's a really positive thing.”
Members of the Coyotes Green U-14 girls soccer team listed with the high schools they attend:
Juliana Comer, Churchill
Paula Germino-Watnick, B-CC
McKenzie McCaull, Linganore
Naomi Gross, B-CC
Sara Johnston, Stone Ridge
Julia Abbott, Good Counsel
Cristina Valianatos, Whitman
Jade Ruiters, Holy Cross
Amanda Wilson, Good Counsel
Lindsay Wytkind, Whitman
Emma Anderson, Whitman
Kristen Darragh, Poolesville
Deena DeSilva, Magruder
Elizabeth Coletti, St. John's Catholic Prep
Clare Severe, Whitman
Julianne Keehan, Holy CrossKristen Bissell, WhitmanAnnika Jansa, Bullis