Andres Rodriguez dropped to his knees near the 50-yard line and waited for the horde of teammates running at him.
Rodriguez deserved the hugs.
With 2:51 left in the second overtime of Monday’s Class 6 state boys soccer semifinal, the Cardinal District Player of the Year scored the game-winner on a 23-yard laser that curled inside the left post to give the Bulldogs (10-1-2) an eventual 4-3 win over Cosby and propel them to Wednesday’s 6 p.m. state championship against visiting Yorktown (12-3), a 3-1 win over West Springfield in the other state semifinal.
But in a way, some of Rodriguez’s cohorts deserved a pat on the back as well. Without them, Rodriguez may not have played for Hylton this season.
When the U.S. Soccer Development Academy dissolved in April of 2020, players like Rodriguez had the option of now competing with their high school team instead of having to only play for their academy team.
Everyone associated with Hylton’s soccer program knew Rodriguez was a game-changer. He will play for George Mason University after spending next school year at Northern Virginia Community College campus in Woodbridge.
The key was convincing him to bring his skills to the Bulldogs. Assistant coach Michael Maldonado spoke to Rodriguez as did teammate Blaise Liess II.
That planted the seed for the midfielder.
“It was a way to stay fit,” Rodriguez said of his initial reason for playing for Hylton. “Everything has worked out.”
Rodriguez missed Hylton’s first game April 28 against Potomac, a 4-3 loss. He then suited up for Hylton’s next game, a tie with Gar-Field.
From there, the first-year varsity player and his team took off on a current 11-game unbeaten streak. Rodriguez’s presence is a big reason why and he reinforced that point Monday.
Besides recording the game’s final goal, Rodriguez also assisted on two of Hylton’s other goals, both off set pieces.
Although he is the Bulldogs’ primary playmaker, Rodriguez has the ability to score when the opportunity arises.
In the waning minutes of the second overtime, Rodriguez seized that opportunity when he collected the ball in the middle of the field and immediately saw an opening. As soon as the ball left his right foot, Rodriguez knew it was going in the goal.
Hylton never trailed the entire game, but it had to constantly fight off a relentless Cosby team.
The Bulldogs jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead set up by Rodriguez’s free kick from the right side. The ball veered toward the far post where Cesar Gudiel headed it in just over two minutes into the game.
Cosby tied things up with 27:53 before Hylton went back up following a corner kick. The Bulldogs kept the pressure on inside the penalty area, resulting in Liess’s goal at 23:58.
Hylton’s success off set pieces continued in the second half when Daniel Reyes-Mejia converted Rodriguez’s corner kick.
Bulldogs head coach Brandon Walker said his team struggled early in the season with scoring off set pieces. But the team kept working on them to create, in Walker’s words, “chaos” in front of the net.
Hylton stayed composed after Cosby (13-2) tallied back-to-back goals to send the game into overtime.
The Bulldogs won the coin toss and elected to go toward the goal closest to the school parking lot. Walker did that on purpose because he said his team scores better on the other goal.
Officials disallowed a Cosby goal early in the first overtime period for a hand ball violation.
Walker’s strategy paid off following Rodriguez’s goal in the second overtime session.
Afterward, Rodriguez and two of teammates huddled together along the Hylton sideline. One spoke and said “We did it, one more” while the other two nodded in agreement.
None of Hylton’s current players were born when the Bulldogs won their last state boys soccer title in 1999. In fact, Rodriguez said he was unaware of Hylton’s soccer history that included four state titles in the 1990s.
Now he and his teammates are ready to end the drought and establish a new era.
“It’s surreal,” Rodriguez said. “I never expected to be here.”