A good coach can admit his mistake. And that is exactly what Northwest High School girls soccer coach Joshua Kinnetz did when he spoke to current junior midfielder Andrea Rodriguez at end of the 2012 season.
The talented playmaker with a contagiously calm presence in the middle, started her freshman season on the junior varsity squad before being pulled up to fill a varsity spot opened up due to an injury. Varsity, Rodriguez said Kinnetz told her, is where she belonged from the start.
“What stuck out to me was her calmness on the ball,” Kinnetz said. “There are not too many freshmen who feel that comfortable on the ball in a varsity setting where the girls are bigger, faster and stronger and here she is playing the ball.”
But Rodriguez also has a feisty side, Kinnetz said.
“Her presence on the field reminds me a lot of Clint Dempsey,” Kinnetz said. “He’s someone who fights for the ball and has this killer attitude. She’s got that, where, that’s her ball and she’s not going to be pushed the ball. A lot of girls feed off her aggressiveness.”
Kinnetz said Rodriguez has taken her game to a whole new level this fall and he expects her ball movement — he described her touch on the ball as “buttery” — to be an important cog in Northwest’s 2014 campaign.
The Jaguars have established themselves as a legitimate threat to the county’s top teams in recent years — they lost last fall in one-goal, overtime decisions to eventual state champion Walt Whitman and Class 4A North Region finalist Sherwood — but haven’t quite pulled off the major upset just yet. Northwest hopes to get over that hump this fall, Kinnetz said.
Led by Rodriguez in the middle and attacking defender Dana Eckerstrom, this year’s squad presents a nice blend of the traditional Northwest grit and physicality with more technical skill.
“We’ve always been athletic but I think when you combine [that with the technical skill] that’s what’s going to provide us some results,” Kinnetz said. “This is the year I feel like we need to make a mark. We’ve been on this progression. At this point in time it’s about winning those [close] games against [top teams].”
Walt Whitman and Winston Churchill will likely remain the teams to beat. The Vikings’ focus early will be on making sure everyone is in the right position, coach Greg Herbert said. Our Lady of Good Counsel has some questions to answer but the Falcons annually reload and return veteran defense and dynamic scoring duo.
Last fall marked the first time in six years that six-time state champion Bethesda-Chevy Chase’s season ended before the state final. Scoring has been an issue for the Barons in recent years but the movement of stalwart defenders Rachel Cady and Denali Minnick up top will give B-CC increased physicality in the offensive third. Two-time state champion Quince Orchard has been on the cusp of its first return to states since 2008 and is poised to remain a major factor with the return of their top two scorers and an incredibly talented playmaker in the middle. Walter Johnson has tended to come up just short against the top teams but with nine returning starters, including their leading scorer, this could be the Wildcats’ year to break out of the region. Thomas S. Wootton had a resurgent 2013 and looks to be ready to reclaim its position in the county’s upper echelon. Sherwood followed up its first-ever state semifinal appearance in 2012 with a region final run a year ago. This is fast and feisty team that has the potential to beat anyone on any given day.
The Academy of the Holy Cross is not at Our Lady of Good Counsel’s level just yet, but the Tartans have certainly become a major factor in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference.
Gaithersburg and Northwest are in the same boat, just below the county’s top tier. Both have proven to be competitive with the perennial powers but are still searching for that signature win. With only three returning starters to last year’s 3A West Region final team and a new coach, Damascus is in a bit of a transitional period but it would be dangerous to overlook the Swarmin’ Hornets. Other teams it would be unwise to underestimate include, James H. Blake, Montgomery Blair, Poolesville and Clarksburg.