Middlemen are at forefront

THE BALTIMORE SUN

A good center midfielder can create order out of apparent chaos, and spell the difference between winning or losing. He is the most skilled and knowledgeable player on the field, and possesses outstanding vision, courage and split-second decision-making ability.

That's why center midfielders are so valued by coaches.

This season features a bumper crop of outstanding center midfielders. Some of the best include Patrick Healey of defending Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Division champion Calvert Hall, Mike Marchiano of MIAA runner-up McDonogh, Jeff Routh of state Class 2A finalist Towson and Drew Yates of up-and-coming Curley.

Healey exemplifies all the attributes of an outstanding center midfielder. He anticipates, creates and is unselfish.

"Patrick works hard at getting along with all of his teammates," said Calvert Hall coach Andy Moore. "Sometimes he's too unselfish. I'm hoping this season to see a smidgen of selfishness from him because he can light it up. Without him, we're 25 percent less everywhere, because he makes everyone else look better."

Healey, a senior whose father, Kevin, is a former Blast coach, has started for Calvert Hall since his sophomore season and is a fourth-year varsity player. He was a prominent member of the under-17 Baltimore Bays club team that finished third at the U. S. Youth Soccer national championships this summer.

"For me, the No. 1 thing about playing center midfield is being creative in moves and thinking -- both offensively and defensively," said the 5-foot-9, 145-pounder, who scored nine goals and had nine assists last season. "It's about not always doing the simple thing. You have to be a field general and worry about everyone, not just yourself."

For Yates, a sophomore, playing center midfield is about "staying connected."

"In a good game for me, I'll get 30 to 40 touches," said Yates, whose Casa Mia Bays club team won the under-15 national championship this summer.

Yates thinks the center midfielder must have the highest work rate mentally and physically of any position.

"It has to be tremendous, because he has to get up and down the field and support both the offense and defense," Yates said.

Yates, 5-10, 147 pounds, is a dangerous scoring threat and is especially strong on the ball.

Marchiano, a junior, thinks that setting the tempo is the most important part of a center midfielder's job.

"You can win or lose a game by controlling the tempo and that's the great thing about playing center midfield," Marchiano said. "You're involved in the whole game, offense and defense. It's a leadership position rather than a goal-scoring position. When a center midfielder is struggling, you notice it more than any other position."

Communicating with teammates and making sure the field stays balanced by moving the ball east-to-west are other important center midfielder tasks, said Marchiano, a natural left-footed player who scored 13 goals a year ago for McDonogh when he was mostly a defensive midfielder playing alongside offensive standouts Brian Yi and Kyle McHugh.

McDonogh and Casa Mia coach Steve Nichols said that what he looks for in a center midfielder is a good technical player who will do what it takes to win and not care about his statistics.

Marchiano, 5-11, 160 pounds, played for the Casa Mia Bays, and at the national championship post-game pool party he broke his foot and will be sidelined for at least September.

Routh, 6-2, 180 pounds, uses his height to win head balls and his strength to ward off defenders.

He hopes to lead Towson, which moves up to 3A, to a state title this season. Towson is the only one of the aforementioned four high school teams that uses just one center midfielder. It plays a 4-3-3 formation. So Routh, who scored 20 goals and had eight assists last season, especially feels the pressure of playing both defense and offense.

Routh plays defense for his club team and was a striker his first two years at Towson.

"I'll play wherever they need me," he said, displaying the perfect unselfish attitude of a center midfielder.

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