Raves

Raves: Nicolas Heredia

Editor’s note: In Philadelphia, we’re all familiar with rants about sports. So once a year, PSP’s writers take several days to just flat out rave about players. They may not be the best players, but they’re players we like. Here’s another one in our Raves series.

Though I bleed blue and gold (and a lot has been bled this season), I find it hard to rave about our beloved Union this year. I always have appreciated soccer’s elegance, the symmetry created when technical skill meets supportive movement. In Europe, I root for Barcelona and Arsenal because those teams most consistently implement what the game should be. I liked Wigan last year too. The Union haven’t been that team this year. They’ve been tough; they’ve played defense; they have banged in, rather than worked in most of their goals.

I’d like to see Jurgen Klinsmann’s narrative work itself out. I’d like our soccer to look more and more technical and intelligent and less and less like fast, hardworking, passionate, but headless chickens unleashed on a hundred yards of green. I could substitute bulls for chicken in this analogy. It’s a little less negative.

So I turned my mind to the soccer players I watch every day, the kids that I coach at Central High School. I’ve got a whole team I can rave about when it comes to technique. We’ve played with the best Public League teams and matched them for skill.

I’ve got a senior midfielder/forward, Jake Dillon, who leads our team in assists, and is third in goals scored. I’ve seen him shake and bake four guys at a go.

I could rave about my senior keeper, Greg Winter, who has saved four out of seven penalties he has faced during my tenure as head coach.

The kid that I choose to rave about isn’t the best player on the team. My team is pretty even, and the best player changes on any given day. But this player does exemplify that unity of forward-leaning possession and technical ability that makes the game beautiful to watch.

A kid worth raving about

Nicolas Heredia is a sophomore from Colombia, and this year I’d put his height at 5′ 4″. Last year, he was 5′ 1½”.

I didn’t think he’d make varsity last year. In the first place, he was tiny. Also he wasn’t fast.

In the end, though, I didn’t have much choice. He was excellent on the ball, creating space with one fake, and whenever he found space, he lifted his head and made a pass that was either judicious or creative. His off the ball movement was always intelligent, as he moved to the spaces between for wide players to find an in. If that angle was blocked, he dropped in for the trail or ran the overlap.

Nico scored one goal last year. We were playing a team we ended up beating 7-0, so they weren’t that good. He ran in on a corner, all 5-1 and a half of him, and headed it in. It was a fun and silly goal. Any team playing proper defense would have prevented him from scoring. He occasionally teed up deeper shots, but with his diminutive size, his shots lacked power and were always easily saved.

This year, though he has started every game he was healthy, he didn’t get a lot of scoring opportunities. He was playing right mid in a 4-3-3. He made every run back and, despite his size, was one of our best ball-winners. This meant he wasn’t always that far forward.

He got one chance when the Fels keeper ran out and played the ball to our left mid, who quickly found Nico. He took a 30-yard shot on a half open net, but it curled wide. His arms went straight down, his neck stretched from the head, which is Nico’s body language for frustration. It lasted maybe a second. Then he was running back so the team could get its defensive shape back.

Nico did put his laces into a nice 25-yard shot against Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, which forced their keeper to make a diving save that bounced back to a Central forward, and we got a goal. Nico had added a powerful shot to his arsenal of options on the ball.

Everybody scores — for a reason

Last year, I decided that all our seniors would score. We used a game against weak opposition, playing all our seniors alternately at forward. The highlight was when Tom, a right back who ran his heart out but never had the cleanest touch, stepped up to take a penalty and buried it. It made the game against a team that would have been boring into a celebration.

This year, when we faced a weaker team near the end of the season, I didn’t do this. The message I wanted to convey was, “This year’s team is playing for a deep run in the playoffs. Who scores goals doesn’t matter. Winning does.”

However, all my midfielders and forwards beside Nico had scored this season, so I played Nico at center forward in a 4-3-3, and I told everyone to get him the ball. I figured it was important that he have the confidence that he could score. It took 20 minutes for our left wing to hit a low cross that an onrushing Nico was able to side-foot home from about 10 years out. Everyone celebrated. We all knew he deserved it. At the same time, it was manufactured. He was playing out of position, with everyone trying to set him up, against weak opposition. I wondered how much confidence he would get out of that.

The next game Central faced a far better team in Bartram. Central needed a win to finish in the top four in the division. While my team was instantly able to possess the ball in the Bartram half, Bartram had two excellent players deployed in a sweeper-stopper set and Central could not get a shot.

Then Jake Dillon won the ball and squared to Nico, who was running into space. He received the ball over 25 yards from goal. He took a touch and launched a shot. It whistled; it knuckled; it beat the keeper in the upper corner.

Nico had given the whole team the confidence they needed, and they piled in several more. It was the game-winner in spirit, though not in number. (Central gave up one when up 4-0, it’s hard to concentrate when the lead gets that big.) The win temporarily pushed Central to second place in the league.

Lucky me: The kid’s a sophomore, and I get him to watch him for another two years. I just hope that American soccer has opened up a space for him and other technical, visionary players by the time he’s moving on from high school.

6 Comments

  1. Sounds like one thing the kid has that the Union needs most is a coach willing to take a chance. Nice work, both with the article and the kids at Central.

  2. Nice work, Coach! Hopefully soccer gives Nico opportunities – whether its moving on to a pro career or just getting a free ride to college.

  3. Kobi Galvis says:

    Thank you for giving Nico a chance. He’s shown so much potential, ever since I met him. He’s growing a lot as a player, and it’s great to see the recognition that he is begining to get for his efforts. I think he can go very far with soccer.

  4. This was fun to read. Felt the excitement of being there

  5. Thanks for a great article. Kids from our club go to Central from time to time, and it’s great to see they are in good hands.

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