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Players to watch

2014 boys soccer players to watch

The Avalon School

Sebastian Gilardi, Matthew Tobin

Montgomery Blair

Ashely Durban, Armel Nguimfack

James H. Blake

Carlos Valdez, Darien Waters

Bullis

Justin Friedlander, Jason Mejia

Winston Churchill

Noah Jankel, Conor Quigley

Clarksburg

Alejandro Avalos, Kurtis Bynum

Damascus

Joshua Fernandez, Nicholas Gumbs

Albert Einstein

Bryan Reyes-Aranda, Pedro Merino

Gaithersburg

Max Boimov, Neal Iannone

Our Lady of Good Counsel

Billy Bridegum, Dominic Duncan

The Heights

James Escobar, Diego Vargas

Walter Johnson

Jackson Lange, Kyle Madden

Landon

Zach Cooper, Haluk Pence

Col. Zadok Magruder

Jermaine Hardy, Steven Snyder

Richard Montgomery

Will Diaz, Matthew Sherman

Montrose Christian

Winston Geohagan, Botao Xiong

Northwest

Henry Gomez, Matthew Mighty

Paint Branch

Khalil Badaway, Dennis Benavides-Argu

Poolesville

Christian Andrade, Brian Galfond

Quince Orchard

Kevin Hwang, Patrick Paolini

Rockville

Diego Mendoza, Carlos Piedrasanta

St. Andrew’s Episcopal

Michael McDonnell-Diaz, Connor Orr

Sandy Spring Friends

Jake Crim, Jacob Petrucci

Seneca Valley

Christian Diaz, Vick Rojas

Sherwood

Ethan Carey, Christian Demoya

Springbrook

Carlos Caro, Matthew Jean Simon

Washington Christian Academy

Trestan Ondiek, Terran Ondiek

Watkins Mill

Alec Van Bronkhorst, Guy Nabo

Wheaton

Ian Dey, Rafael Pereira

Walt Whitman

Ian Atkinson, David Mason

Thomas S. Wootton

Cristobal Corvalan, Richard Hum

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.”

Montgomery County wide open

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.

egoldwein@gazette.net