The opening minutes of Monday night’s match between Herndon and Edison didn’t feel like a full-field game of soccer. Tracking player spacing and ball movement, it seemed more like a small-sided game of possession, as if players were confined by cones set between midfield and Edison’s 18-yard box.
Herndon (5-0-1) dominated winless Edison in those early moments, only breaking from the imaginary grid to launch assaults on the Eagles’ goal. Relentless pressure on Edison’s back line kept the Eagles on their heels and allowed the Hornets to out-shoot their opponents 8-1 in the first half. Senior striker Brian Maye converted two of those opportunities to give his team a 2-0 halftime lead that eventually led to a 3-0 road win.
Herndon’s pressing mentality comes from first-year coach Guillermo Tolaba, the program’s third manager in the last three years. Stacked with a deep arsenal of attacking midfielders, Tolaba encourages his players to keep pressing even when they lose the ball, preferring to play defense by quickly regaining possession rather than sagging backward without the ball. It’s a parallel to Spain’s tiki-taka style just as it’s a far cry from Italy’s prevailing park-the-bus strategy.
“He’s implementing high pressure, which allows us to steal the ball on their side instead of waiting for them to get to our side,” Herndon senior midfielder Uchechukwu Ezenwa said. “That way we’re always attacking. We pressure as a team.”
Herndon’s most potent weapon up top is Maye, a shifty No. 9 with the speed to run behind defenders and the skill to get around them. Maye’s versatility produced his two goals Monday, the first a 20-yard strike that dipped over outstretched fingertips, the second a well-placed header off the curling service of Jonathan Fernandez.
Those efforts marked Maye’s second two-goal performance in his last three outings. His attacking exploits should continue to draw attention from wary defenders in the coming weeks, though Tolaba insists there’s more to his offense than one player.
“Brian scores a lot of goals for us, but we also create a lot from the outside midfielders,” Tolaba said. “That’s what I like. It looks like we attack with one player, but realistically we attack with three, four at a time.”
Among those attacking options is a reliable core of sophomores that should make Herndon strong for the next couple years. Fernandez, Michael Volpe, Will Funez, Pedro Alvarado and Mason Martin all possess the skill to successfully implement Tolaba’s system, as do upperclassmen like Bronco Perez and Zouhir Warid.
All of those guys have adjusted seamlessly to the program’s latest coaching change. Former Herndon boss Sean Lanigan bolted for Westfield in 2012, while Trey Messiah left last year after being unable to balance the time commitment with his other job. Hired last December, Tolaba brings a sense of familiarity to the table, as he also coaches U-11 and U-19 travel teams for Herndon Youth Soccer. He arrived to the States in 2004 to play college soccer for Salem International University of West Virginia, where he was named the West Virginia Conference Player of the Year in his final season. Prior to that, Tolaba played professionally in the second division of his native Argentina, along with a stint in Guatemala.
“We’ve been adjusting with new coaches coming in and out, but Guillermo has been helping us develop each and every day,” Maye said. “We’re using what we’ve been practicing, and we can see it paying off in games.”
The Hornets’ progression was evident in last Thursday’s game against Oakton, a heavy favorite to win the 6A state tournament this spring. Herndon’s back line held firm against the Cougars’ lethal attacking fleet, backing up an offense that was one or two missed chances away from breaking the 0-0 tie that eventually went final.
“We’re confident moving forward,” Maye said. “There are no teams out there that we can’t beat. We realize that if we work hard enough and set our minds to it, we can do it.”