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Highlanders Unbeaten Through First Five Soccer Games

Memorable comeback versus Centreville boys is season highlight thus far.

This year's McLean High boys' soccer team, the defending Liberty District champion and Northern Region runner-up, is continuing its strong play over the early portion of the spring season.

While the Highlanders lost eight starters from last year's outstanding team, McLean still has a good nucleus of experienced players in its line-up to go along with talented, lesser experienced varsity teammates who are seeing more playing time than they did a year ago.

"They just work hard, listen and do well in school," said McLean coach Mike Anderson, who loves the make-up of this year's squad, just as he did last year's Highlanders. "They perform well on the field and don't get angry with one another."

If this year's McLean squad (3-0-2) was ever going to have a chance to get down on themselves, it would have been during their dramatic non-district home game against Centreville High on March 23. The Highlanders fell behind 4-0 that night before, somehow, rallying back for a 5-5 tie. Anderson was most impressed with the fact that his players kept working hard and playing as a team even after falling into the huge deficit.

McLean trailed 2-0 at halftime and gave up two more scores early in the second half. So, 10 minutes into that latter half, the Highlanders still trailed 4-0. But the home team than caught fire, scoring three consecutive goals to get within 4-3. The guest Wildcats, however, then answered with a score from star player Conner Coward to go ahead 5-3 with 13 minutes remaining. But McLean's fortitude remained and the team scored two times over the following six minutes to tie the score at 5-5. Thereafter, over the next couple of minutes, McLean nearly scored a go-ahead sixth goal but twice saw shots hit off the post.

Ultimately, with five minutes left, the contest was stopped because of lightening.

"I don't think I've ever seen that at any level," said Anderson, of the come-from-behind game that ended in a deadlock. "In that game against Centreville, I saw a lot of character. I saw a lot of boys turn into young men. They assumed responsibility [upon falling behind] and didn't get down on each other."

McLean's other tie game came a week earlier in a 2-2 affair at Westfield High. The Highlanders forced overtime in that game when Rafi Enriquez, a senior midfielder and team captain, found the net with three minutes left in regulation to tie the score.

"That was probably our worst game of the season against a really good Westfield team," said Anderson.

McLean's wins have come over visiting Wakefield, 5-0, in the season opener on March 14; at Marshall, 5-1, in the Highlanders' Liberty District opener on March 22; and at district opponent South Lakes, 2-0, last Friday, April 1.

ANDERSON SAID his team has received solid leadership from team captains Rafi Enriquez, junior midfielder Michael Russo, junior goalie Robbie Maffei, and senior midfielder Nadr Sobhani. Enriquez, Russo and Maffei have been team captains throughout the season, while Sobhani was named as a fourth team captain earlier this week by Anderson.

The coach waits a while into a season to see what player deserves to be named a fourth captain. This spring, it was Sobhani, a youngster who was cut from the squad last year but gave it another try this season. He not only made this year's varsity, but has displayed a tremendous attitude and enthusiasm that has proved contagious.

"He's a fantastic kid," said Anderson. "He's verbal, takes instructions well and has really stepped up the last two games. He's got a great attitude and energy."

Meanwhile, Anderson's other team captains have also shined. Enriquez, who played left back position the previous three years, has moved and played good ball at center midfield this season. Enriquez is set to play the sport at the college level at Bucknell University (Pa.) next year.

Russo, an exceptionally talented player, has made a verbal commitment to play at the University of Central Florida (Orlando), one of the top programs in the nation. Russo, Anderson said, has the tools and make-up to one day play the sport professionally if he desires. Along with playing for McLean, Russo is team captain for U-17 DC United, one of the top youth teams in the country.

Maffei, meanwhile, is playing well in the net for the Highlanders. He made a spectacular save in the win over the Seahawks on Friday.

McLean was scheduled to play just one game this week, that coming on Tuesday, April 5 against visiting Oakton. Next week, the Highlanders will play district home games against Madison on Monday night, April 11, and Jefferson on Wednesday night, April 13. Both games will start at 7.