Washington looks to midfield for production

Published 4:03 pm Thursday, August 14, 2014

DAVID CUCCHIARA | DAILY NEWS NEW ROLES: Senior Lupe Barrera spearheads a midfield expected to come through in 2014.

NEW ROLES: Senior Lupe Barrera spearheads a midfield expected to come through in 2014.

Washington head soccer coach Jim Kouzch expects his midfield to take on an entirely different role this year.

Out is the Pam Pack’s dynamic pair of strikers, Alex Donadio and Jorge Rodriguez, and with them 45 of the team’s 104 goals. With the forward position being the No. 1 question for Kozuch heading into the season, it’s up to a veteran midfield to take a more offensive approach.

“We lost an incredible playmaker in Alex Donadio,” Kozuch said. “It’s tough, but we’re going to do things a little bit differently this season. We’ll be really strong in the midfield. We’ll fill in those gaps.”

Much of the weight will likely fall on center midfielder Lupe Barrera, who put on a clinic this summer and was among the Greenville 7-on-7 Summer Soccer League’s top scorers.

Barrera, who assumed more of a defensive role in Kozuch’s scheme last season, notched eight goals and 12 assists. This summer, he’s worked on his craft, adding agility and a virtually unstoppable, outside-of-the-foot shot to his arsenal.

Another senior Kozuch will rely on to step up is Sergio Higuera, who collected 13 goals and 12 assists last year. Higuera joined the 7-on-7 team late this summer, but made an immediate impact when inserted into the lineup. While Barrera has uncompromised speed and technical ability, Higuera complements the other midfielders with his ability to open up the field and find teammates with precision passing.

Due to the loss of Luis Gamboa and Christian Crompton, last season’s captain, one spot does remain open, but sophomore Eric Ruiz, a scrappy player with some power behind his shot, has done enough this offseason to fill one of the slots.

“He’s a strong player and is technically really good,” Kozuch said. “We need to build up his conditioning level because he’s a small guy.”

Washington has yet to determine the starting forwards, but Kyle Hodges is making a strong case. Hodges, who entered the summer slimmest, faster and more confident in his ability, could be exactly what Kozuch is looking for up front.

“Kyle has always had a ton of potential,’ Kozuch said. “He’s shown great technical ability, but he’s always struggled with injuries and getting himself in shape. Now, he’s a physical specimen now. He’s in the best shape of his life and playing better soccer than he ever has. Above all, he’s excited, which is so important. When you’re excited to play, you’re going out there trying to top whatever you did the day before.”

Washington will get its first look at high school team today at 5 p.m. when it takes on Kinston at home.