Northwest High School’s Henry Gomez showed promise as a freshman in 2012 as the leading scorer on the junior varsity boys soccer team. The Jaguars, though, wouldn’t get any help last season from the talented underclassman, who played for the D.C. United Academy instead of the Germantown school. Academy players are prohibited from participating in high school soccer.
The good news for Northwest: Gomez, now a junior, is returning. The bad news: academies hit the team even harder this fall, with five players (as of Thursday) — including All-Gazette first team defender Wielfried Zouantcha — forgoing varsity soccer in favor of the Bethesda-Olney Academy, according to Northwest coach Kert Mease.
“It’s tough that they can’t do both, but that’s the way it is,” Mease said.
There’s still cause for optimism for the Jaguars, who are coming off a 7-4-2 season. Gomez is coming back as a more skilled and experienced player after his season training with the academy. The forward said he returned because he’ll be given more freedom, offensively, with Northwest than with the academy.
“I’m able to do more things with the ball and create more opportunities to score,” Gomez said. “... My touch on the ball and game awareness [is improved]. Where to be and how to play it, [I have] a better understanding of the game overall.”
Though the Jaguars are losing their star defender, Zouantcha, they’ll have Matthew Mighty at goalkeeper and Christian Nlend anchoring the backline, Mease said.
“We’re confident in the group we have going forward,” Mease said.
Added Gomez: “We’re a very young team. We have a lot of talent but we just have to focus on playing more strongly as a team, and I think we’ll be fine.”
Mease is entering his 17th season as Jaguars coach, and never before, he said, has he seen a Montgomery County soccer season like the one last year.
James H. Blake won the 4A North Region, reaching the state finals for the first time in the Silver Spring school’s history, while Derwood’s Col. Zadok Magruder — a year removed from a 3-12 season — came out of the 4A West by winning all of its regional playoff games by one goal and knocking off the defending state champions, Thomas S. Wootton (Rockville).
“It’s parity, I guess. We’re like the NFL,” Mease said.
Coaches across the county said they expect another wide open season. Magruder and Blake were among the contenders mentioned, but the only consensus was that the gap between the top and bottom teams is shrinking, and that there was no definitive favorite.
David Greene, entering his 36th season as coach of Bethesda’s Walt Whitman, said that about nine teams in the county — including his own — have state championship potential.
“We almost consider our region [4A West] a state championship in itself,” said Greene, whose Vikings lost to Walter Johnson (Bethesda) in the region semifinals. “... If you could get through the region you could have a fairly good opportunity to win the whole thing.”
Germantown’s Poolesville, a 2A team, is looking to improve on a 2-9 season with most of its starters returning, but the biggest impact player could be a newcomer: freshman goalkeeper Christian Andrade.
“He’s the kind of guy that embraces the pressure,” Poolesville coach Christos Nicholas said.
Look for Brian Galfond — a “hard-working” senior attackman — to have a strong season as a fourth-year starter, Nicholas said.