Last year was a tough transition season for the McLean High boys’ soccer team, which struggled through a difficult 4-8-2 record under its then-new coaching staff. But this year’s Highlanders, with players and coaches both having an improved understanding of the other, have emerged into one of the better teams in the Northern Region.
Both McLean head coach Mike Anderson, in his second year at the helm of the Highlanders, and head assistant Mirza Kurspahic are pleased to see their players reaping some of the rewards for their hard work in the program’s turnaround season. Going into this week, McLean posted an impressive 7-2-1 record, the tie coming Thursday night, April 23, in a 1-1 deadlock at Liberty District and cross-town rival Langley.
"Last year was Mirza’s and my first year [coaching the team]," said Anderson, a former collegiate men’s soccer player at West Point. "Now the players understand the [on-field tactical] concepts and the coaches’ personalities. They have a concept of winning."
The Highlanders, 5-0-1 in district play, have played well overall as a team, and they’ve had several players step up in big ways to lead the squad’s thus far successful season.
One of those players is center midfielder Ned Cauley, a senior tri-captain. Cauley, who coach Anderson calls a "workhorse" for his all-out, determined style of play, has netted two goals while dishing out five assists this season. He is a solid player in all areas of his game.
"His two goals were the absolute best I’ve seen in high school soccer," said Anderson, who said one of the scores came on a free kick from inside 30-meters. "He works hard and he wins everything in the midfield. He never loses the ball and completes 90 percent of his [passes]."
One of Cauley’s fellow tri-captains, senior Sam Radelet, has emerged into one of the region’s top goal scorers. Radelet, a midfielder, had netted 12 goals over McLean’s first nine games. He tallied a solid six goals a year ago.
"He’s expanded his repertoire of runs," said Anderson, of Radelet’s ability to get down the field and make things happen on the offensive end. "He’s gotten bigger [physically] and has become an unstoppable force. He’s a hard worker who can score scrappy [style] goals and [more picturesque] goals."
Both Radelet and Cauley, Anderson said, are Division 1 caliber college players.
McLean’s lead team tri-captain is junior center back Drew Hunt, who has been a key defender for a team that has earned four shutout wins and held four other teams to just one score.
"He’s really worked hard and made things happen for us," said Anderson, of Hunt’s stellar play.
Meanwhile, senior midfielder Dominic Ferrari has given the Highlanders a huge season. Anderson calls Ferrari a "game-changer" for his ability to make huge plays at the right time. In McLean’s 2-1 district road win at Stone Bridge on March 30, Ferrari, with his team trailing 1-0, made an offensive rush in which he worked his way through four Bulldog defenders before ultimately earning his team a penalty20shot, resulting in a goal that tied the game. Later in the game, he came through again with an assist on a goal by Radelet that proved to be the game-winner.
"He led us to that win," said Anderson.
<b>IN RECENT WEEKS</b>, McLean goalie Vlad Ripko, a senior who has only been available to play since late March, has been outstanding in the net. In the past five games up through the Langley match, opponents had scored just three times with Ripko in the goal.
"He’s a huge shot-stopper and has natural shot-stopping ability," said Anderson. "He’s 6-foot-2 and carries his weight and size very well. He’s very quick [in the net]."
Anderson had a good feel for this year’s squad right from the start of early season practices. He picked this year’s team tri-captains, believing the trio — Radelet, Cauley and Hunt — were the right individuals to lead the Highlanders.
Coach Anderson, for the most part, has been pleased with his team’s play this season.
"We’ve played very well," he said. "There were two or three games where we were a little inconsistent as far as playing with good form."
McLean’s wins thus far have come over Yorktown, Fairfax, Madison, Stone Bridge, Jefferson, South Lakes and Woodson.
This week, McLean was scheduled to play games against district rival Marshall on Monday, April 27, and non-district foe Chantilly in a road match on Thursday.