Frederick Community College Men’s Soccer has already set a predominant position within both the community and four-year college world. As school starts, so does the 2019 fall sports season. Will a determined team, an already proven, talented coach, and some key players help to carry the team’s long-running success?
With Frederick’s 2018 season leading the team to a ranking of 11th in the nation, there’s no doubt that the team leaves other East Coast-based teams with a feeling of intimidation and pressure when schedules are released. Much of the team’s success over the last few years spans from the young head coach, John LaRocca.
Larocca has an astounding coaching record, which is complemented by his being named the 2016 Maryland JUCO Co-Coach of the Year, according to Frederick Community College’s website. He was credited for helping to orchestrate 14 wins that season, with an 11-game winning streak.
In an interview with LaRocca, I asked what led to the soccer team’s success over the past few years. “As our team has been building the last few years, so has our reputation,” he said. “Through this, we’ve been able to recruit great players from far away. One such player is number 9, Vagner Marques-Rodriguez who is a right forward from Virginia.”
On Sept. 5, I had the pleasure of watching the local FCC versus Hagerstown Community college soccer game. With a cloudy sky, and moderate temperature the game was locked into a very evenly-fought first half. Both teams played very defensively as neither team could seem to possess the ball for more than a few passes.
The Cougars generate many of their chances from breakaways set up by the defense, which plays the ball up through the right side. From there, Marques-Rodriguez could use his explosive speed and crafty footwork to blaze past HCC’s defense and put the ball on goal.
Much of Frederick’s offensive support was brought to the game by midfielder number 26, Kofi Bonsue, who’s unrelenting hustle and dribbling allowed him not only to work his way around the field, but to fight for the ball back, proving losing it was not an option. Unfortunately, the goal-scoring glory was cut short in the first half by HCC’s very tall keeper who was able to block the ball using his body and return the ball upfield with an astounding amount of power. Both teams refused to be scored on.
The second half of the game contained most of the playmaking of the match. Starting off the half with a well-deserved goal within the first 10 minutes, Rodriguez found the back of the net, not with his athleticism, but with his keen accuracy and placement in a penalty kick. The team was now fired up. Fans could feel the rising energy found by the Black Cats. The team pushed on, controlling the ball much more often and effectively, almost as if a weight had been lifted from the team, and it showed.
A quality attempt at scoring from behind the penalty area was blocked by the HCC keeper only to be rebounded by FCC’s number 14, Tareeq Chambers, with a quick yet accurate blast into the goal only five minutes after the first. The game had turned to a common phenomenon of one team gaining the lead, taking advantage of the energy and momentum, and securing the win.
Frederick’s also had a subtle ability to take advantage of small opportunities when given the chance. One example was the third goal of the game when HCC’s keeper had rolled the ball to an inside back. Cougar’s number 3, Emmanuel Agyei, swiftly ran up to pressure the opponent. The controlling defender had one bad touch on the ball, which was all Agyei needed to sidestep the ball to the right, dribble a few yards, and bury the ball from the penalty area.
Finally, the fourth and last goal was the result of a burst of talent from number 16 Gabe Catone-Highfield, who had created a breakaway where he was able to show off his ability to fend off physical opponents while simultaneously keeping the ball beneath his feet. Highfield had put the ball in from just within the penalty area.
Before the end of the match, HCC’s keeper was penalized for diving through a Cougar team member to obtain the ball. He was ejected and sent off. HCC had to bring in their younger less experienced keeper who proved to be up to the task. Despite being second string, he had four saves including shutting down a corner kick, all in a Frederick-driven second half. I saw this as a pleasant surprise from a team already losing to pressure.
From what I gathered, Frederick gains a lot of their success from playing off the flanks, utilizing breakaways and keeping up a very determined state of mind. This is backed up by LaRocca who said, “We like to control the ball on the sides and play very high pressing.”
I was fortunately able to eavesdrop some mid-game chatter. The conversation I picked up from two players who happened to catch a break as the ball was on the other side of the field, focused on one player’s injured quad. “Bro, I think I pulled my quad,” stammered the player. His teammate replied, “You should probably tell Coach.” The suffering player looked at the field. “Naw, I’ll be fine,” brushing off his teammate’s advice. Clearly even potential injuries aren’t enough to slow the team’s determination. On the defensive side of the field, a solid lineup of four defenders who play the returning ball outside well, held strong against its opposing force.
What shined in addition to the brick wall of players was Frederick’s Keeper, Ismael Hernandez. Not only does he move with fast lateral movements and instinctive air dives, he handles the ball delicately whether he is catching the ball midshot or throwing it across the penalty area to a teammate.
With every great team, there are a few fallbacks. When asked about any specific qualities that hold the team back, LaRocca said, “We have a tendency to come out slow which puts us at a disadvantage in the beginning of games.” From a personal high school soccer experience, this same problem was a major plague every season for Brunswick High School’s soccer team. FCC will have to work hard to overcome this, as it is a common issue with many soccer teams.
LaRocca also explained that having a nationally-recruited team also brings for the strangeness of blending players of different backgrounds. “Starting out, we needed to figure out how to mix players from other states, such as players from Ohio and North Carolina, with local players.” Obviously, none of these should discourage the team as they are not season-ending issues. The head coach informed me greatly that the team is not only ready, but excited to fight on the rest of the season and hopefully bring home a championship trophy.
When I began researching the team about three weeks ago, I only really cared about my grade. Three weeks in and I am more than interested about this team. Not only have they defeated countless other community colleges, but also a few other two-year colleges such as Montgomery College in 2016. They have also earned region XXI Division 1 finalists in both 2016 and 2017, and placed in the top four in 2018. There is no doubt in my mind that this year’s 2019 team (already flexing a 6-1 record) will break through their competition.