NORRIDGE — Before sophomore Mike Piechota was part of Ridgewood’s boys soccer team, he would come to his older brother’s games and watch the Rebels play.
Even as a spectator, Piechota couldn’t help but stand out. The first time he caught Rebels coach Rob St. John’s attention was when he was juggling a soccer ball. He maintained control with his feet, St. John recalled, and then his juggling got progressively more difficult. He bounced the ball off his head and off of his shoulders and kept control. St. John said Piechota was even able to hold the ball on his back before flipping it up and continuing to juggle it.
“He would get like hundreds of touches,” St. John said. “I’m like, ‘Who the hell is that kid?’ ”
Bart Piechota, Mike Piechota’s older brother, is no longer on the team — he graduated in 2013 — and Mike Piechota now plays midfielder and forward for the Rebels, yet he still makes quite the first impression.
Mike Piechota immediately stands out when he warms up, and that’s largely because of his size. He’s only 4-11 and 80 pounds — two measurables that put him at a distinct disadvantage on the field, but something he’s learned to deal with.
“I’ve been used to it, so it’s not a problem for me,” Mike Piechota said. “It doesn’t make a difference if I’m big or small.”
Mike Piechota seems out of place next to varsity soccer players who are often more than 10 inches taller than him and 70 pounds heavier, yet he fits in once he starts playing.
A big reason for that is he’s very skilled. Mike Piechota delivers superbly weighted passes — especially on through balls — and shows his intelligence on the field by making dangerous runs off the ball and setting up teammates. He doesn’t spend very much time on the ball, however.
“It’s tough sometimes,” Mike Piechota said of playing against defenders who are much bigger than him. “Sometimes they think, ‘Oh, he’s short. I’ll put a body onto him.’ But then you use your speed or [movement], and they don’t expect that.”
There are other limitations. Mike Piechota, who had scored three goals as of Sunday, doesn’t win many head balls, which was evident when he played center midfielder in the second half of Glenbrook South’s 2-1 victory over the Rebels on Saturday.
Ridgewood isn’t expecting him to do that, either. St. John said the coaches want Mike Piechota to continue to be very vocal — he’s a tremendous vocal leader, St. John said, even when he’s not in the game — and work exceptionally hard in practice.
If he does that and plays how he’s been playing, it’s likely he’ll continue to leave a positive imprint on people who watch him play.
“I’ve had coaches come up to me — almost every game, even the coaches from Glenbrook South — and they all say something about him. … Like, ‘Who’s this guy?’ ” St. John said. “He’s really, really good. People are very impressed with him. Officials say stuff to us all the time about how impressed they are with him.”