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Global Mar 02, 2012

Korrio Player to Watch for March 2012: Alani Johnson of Beach FC and Bayside HS

By Jimmy LaRoue

Virginia Beach’s Alani Johnson is a dynamic and athletic striker with the ability to make her teammates better, and those abilities are attracting NCAA Division I scouts and opportunities to showcase her talents to a wider audience, according to her Beach FC Under-16 coach Mike Gyori.

Johnson, a sophomore, stars not only with a Beach FC group that won State Cup at the U-14 level, but she’s also a featured player on her Bayside High School team, as she was named Beach District Rookie of the Year as a freshman. She’ll be with her Beach FC U16 Girls Red team during this month’s Jefferson Cup in Richmond, Va.

Because of her hard work and improvement over the last year, Johnson, 16, is earning opportunities to develop her game on a wider scale and has been named one of Korrio’s Player to Watch for March.

While she had to pass up an opportunity to the Olympic Development Program’s Las Vegas National Development camp, she just returned from a Region I ODP trip to Spain.

“When you’ve got a player like Alani, she really is a game-changer,” Gyori said.

Even against top teams, Johnson stands out.

“You know right away that the other coaches can pick her out and the next thing you know she’s got two or three players marking her,” Gyori said. “She can still find ways to score goals, improve her teammates and get the job done.”

Gyori noted that she looks to pass as much as score and at times, has to be encouraged to be selfish.

“Sometimes we need that mentality to change because she’s one of our most athletic and dynamic kids,” Gyori said. “Sometimes we want her taking players on but she’s always looking to make that great little pass, and I don’t think everybody knows that about her. Everybody things she’s a goalscorer, but she really does try to include her teammates and make the players around her better.”

While Gyori uses her as a central forward in Beach FC’s 4-3-3, he’ll move her around to the flanks to try and free up space for her. If the other team is gaining more in possession, he doesn’t hesitate to drop her into the midfield to help organize the team.

In bigger games when trying to preserve a lead, Gyori has even shifted her to center back, taking advantage of her athleticism to stave off the opposition.

“She’s very good at finding that shot,” Gyori said. “She’s not always looking for that perfect shot. Sometimes she takes half-chances, knowing that those are the things that score goals. She’s just in and around the ball a lot. She’s very opportunistic. She sometimes can really tell when the backs on the other team, or the goalkeeper struggles a bit with their possession and she’s really quick to cut off a bad pass or take advantage of a bad touch to make the other team pay.”

Gyori has noticed the maturity in Johnson’s game over the last year, one in which she wasn’t selected to the Region I ODP team. The feedback she received from those coaches, he said, was to improve her vision for the game. With the extra work she has spent with conditioning and technical training, she has done just that.

“One of the comments was that they just wanted her be able to see the game better, her movement off the ball,” Gyori said. “Obviously, she’s gotten better with it.”

He said Johnson fits in well with previous Korrio Players to Watch Katie Cousins of the Richmond Kickers and Elizabeth Ball of the Richmond Strikers.

“When we play the Strikers we know we’ve got to mark Elizabeth, and when we play the Kickers, we’ve got to do something with that Katie Cousins,” Gyori said. “And I’m sure the other teams, when they play us, [they’re saying] ‘We’ve got to do something with Alani.’”

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