Midway through the first half of Tuesday night’s match against Hayfield, South County girls soccer coach Jean Coder turned to her bench and made a substitution. The midfielder wearing No. 24 didn’t draw much attention as she settled into the game - that is, until the ball arrived at her feet.
Suddenly South County’s steady control of the game turned into a full-fledged assault on the visitors’ goal. Andi Sullivan, the Stallions’ stealth bomber off the bench, fired a low left-footed shot that squeaked just past the far post a mere 45 seconds after entering the contest. A minute later, she dribbled into space and laid a timely pass off to a teammate, whose ensuing shot went on frame but fell into the goalkeeper’s hands.
It was a fitting sequence for South County’s dynamic attacking midfielder, a gifted player at once capable of scoring at will and providing golden opportunities for teammates.
Yet the Stallions somehow entered halftime tied 0-0, despite an onslaught that saw the home side lead Hayfield 12-0 in shot attempts. Their 11-1 second half edge in that category finally produced a goal by senior midfielder Dani Roques, but it also resulted in a goal by Hayfield senior Rebecca Froling off a long-distance free kick that knotted the game, 1-1, with just under 15 minutes remaining.
Sullivan came off the bench again in the second half, this time with about nine minutes to go. In those nine minutes of regulation and the two 5-minute overtime sessions that followed, South County out-shot the Hawks 8-0 (six of them on goal), compared to the 3-1 shot advantage it held in the 31 minutes before Sullivan re-entered.
Hayfield senior keeper Chelsea Pixa, who finished with 10 saves, preserved the unlikely 1-1 result for the visiting side. Still, the commanding play of Sullivan, who often looked like a professional guest coach playing a scrimmage amongst her players, signaled the return of the Northern Region’s most complete player.
Considered by some to be the area’s best player her freshman year, Sullivan sat out her sophomore season so that she could take part in camps with the U-17 National Team, which was preparing for last fall’s World Cup in Azerbaijan. In between commitments to her club team and the national team, Sullivan will be back to suit up at the high school level, where she’ll have a much harder time going unnoticed this time around.
“This year I think more players know my name, which makes it harder in games because people are going to be marking you,” Sullivan said. “I think I’ve changed a lot as a player in terms of my vision of the game and finding people a lot better. Hopefully this season I’ll get to connect with my teammates a lot more.”
Opponents breathing a sigh of relief at the sight of Sullivan on the bench should avoid getting too comfortable. Her sparse playing time Tuesday - and her absence in the Stallions’ 3-2 loss against Oakton in the season opener last week - came because Coder wanted to rest her star after her recent return from an international tournament in La Manga, Spain. Sullivan was called up to the U-20 National Team to participate in the 12 Nations tournament, a two-week competition that pitted the United States against Norway, Germany and Sweden. Competing for the team that won last fall’s U-20 Women’s World Cup in Japan, Sullivan played midfield in every minute of all three matches, which took place in a six-day span. Her team drew with Norway, 1-1, before falling to Germany, 3-0, and tying Sweden, 0-0.
Now Sullivan is trying to ease back into high school soccer, a challenge made difficult by her need to skip many of South County’s practices in favor of commitments to her Bethesda SC team and the National Team.
“There’s so much competitiveness in the international game. It’s different to transition here,” Sullivan said. “You have to just be sharper all the time. It’s hard to switch levels like that so drastically. It takes time to adjust.”
It certainly is an adjustment from her settings last fall, when she was in Azerbaijan playing in the U-17 Women’s World Cup. Faced with the toughest group in the competition, the U.S. was forced out after the first round on goal difference. They tied eventual champion France, 0-0, in the opening game before routing Gambia, 6-0, and tying Korea DPR, 1-1.
Sullivan didn’t put up any goals or assists in the competition, but she logged plenty of minutes and asserted herself as a player to watch heading into next year’s U-20 Women’s World Cup in Canada.
Her return to the high school pitch has been welcomed by teammates and coaches alike, who admire the selfless style of play Sullivan brings to the table.
“She comes back trying to readjust to school and she’s doing a great job of it,” Coder said. “The team is very welcoming of that and understanding of her role. They love being around her. It raises everybody’s training and work ethic.”
Rated the No. 1 recruit in the Mid-Atlantic Region for the Class of 2014, Sullivan committed to Stanford last March after also considering Virginia, Duke and UCLA. The Cardinal went undefeated on its way to a national title two years ago before falling in the College Cup semifinals last season.
Sullivan, who received her first college recruiting letter in eighth grade, is used to being pulled in many directions at once when it comes to balancing soccer and school. Perhaps that’s why she chose to add high school soccer to her plate this year, a decision South County coaches don’t mind accommodating.
“We end up giving her the rest because those other coaches aren’t going to, but that’s okay,” Coder said. “I’m happy she wants to have a high school experience. So many kids choose not to do that, and I think later they regret it because this is her community. When she comes home from Stanford, she’s going to see all these girls.”
Until then, Sullivan can focus on helping her team go after a Patriot District title that has long eluded South County.
“I wish I could give back more to the school and be here more often,” Sullivan said. “I just want the team to do well. We have such quality players... I want to be here to support my teammates and just help everyone improve this season so we can get to the top.”