They played for five years on the same club soccer team. This year, they're teammates on Meade's 6-1 squad.
Eric Washington and Bryan Mitchell have a lot in common.
Each stands 6-foot-1 and maintains a "B" average while having scored in the 900s on the Scholastic Aptitude Test. They're even hoping to attend the same college, having been roommates for the past two years at a summer camp at Duke University.
"We've been friends for along time -- on and off the field -- and I trust him whatever happens," said Mitchell, the Mustangs' sweeper.
Said Washington, a midfielder, "With him back there, I can go into the middle more and know he's going to do the job. We're real comfortable playing together."
Although the brawny, 169-pound Mitchell has about 14 pounds on the slender Washington, they are equally fast, multidimensional players.
The 17-year-old seniors are virtually interchangeable in Coach MikeDey's game plan to reach the Class 4A Region IV playoffs, a feat last year's 7-5 squad couldn't accomplish.
"The great players in soccer are the utility people who are capable and willing to help in whatever the team needs, and those two can alternate at times," said the first-year coach of a tandem that has been in on 14 of the Mustangs' 22 goals.
"One thing I wanted to do this year is use Bryan's offensive skills, coming from the back. I wanted him coming forward a lot because he'll be unmarked many times. Another thing I wanted to do was to flip-flop Eric back there. He's played some sweeper in the past,and he has good speed and good foot skills and a good sense of the game."
Washington leads the team in scoring with six goals and fourassists.
"I don't mind playing defense at all and I still get some offense in," he said. "My best game was the Southern game, when we won (2-1) and I scored both goals."
Mitchell's best game was a 6-3victory over North County, last year's Class 4A Region IV runner-up to Broadneck. Sparking an offensive surge that helped Meade overcome a 2-0 deficit, Mitchell came forward for three first-half goals.
"In the past couple of seasons, I had been a little reluctant to come up, but that game helped me to get more confidence," said Mitchell, who has four goals. "I'm kind of getting more relaxed now."
Each iscapable of hawking the opposing team's top player. Dey couldn't haveshowcased the duo any better than in the Mustangs' 2-1 double-overtime victory over Howard County's Atholton.
The Raiders had returned11 players from last year's Class 2A state championship team, which had the best record (12-3-1) in the school's history. But Mitchell and Washington collared the Raiders' 6-foot-2, 165-pound Tony Dedmond, a former 400-meter -- county champion who was coming off of an 18-goal, 13-assist season.
"I knew Dedmond was faster than anyone we had," Dey said. "But Eric's played the back line, and I knew Bryan couldcover for any mistakes he made. They know each other real well."
Together, they've got a lot to offer -- combined, they have 22 years of experience.
Mitchell first kicked a soccer ball when he was 5 years old playing in the Fort Meade youth leagues. Washington began playing two years later while living in Laurel.
A year later, Washington was picked up by the Crofton-based Freestate USA Pumas, a selectteam coached by Archbishop Spalding's Brad Rivera. Mitchell joined Washington and the Pumas when the boys were 10 but left to play with the Bethesda Mustangs as a sophomore while Washington remained with the Pumas.
Mitchell played as a marking back on the three-time StateCup champion Bethesda squad.
Despite their similarities, Washington, the producer, still considers himself a foil to Mitchell, the protector.
"I like producing anything I can for the team. I feel thatwhen I give the ball up at the right time, I'm producing a play thatwill help the team," Washington said. "There's a lot of talent here,and I really enjoy giving the ball up as much as shooting."
Second-year goalie John Gratson attributes his shutouts against Arundel, 4-0, Northern of Calvert County, 3-0, and Queen Anne's, 5-0, to the Mitchell-led defense.
"This has been probably the best team and definitely the best defense I've seen," said Gratson, at 6-feet-3, 170-pounds, who has allowed six goals in seven games. "I've only had to make about 40 saves."
The Mustangs, ranked No. 13 in the metro area, visit third-ranked Severna Park at 1 p.m. tomorrow. The Falcons (7-0)have a 35-game regular-season winning streak since losing twice to Meade in 1987 -- once in the regular-season finale and again in the regional semifinals.
Success will depend on the ability of Meade's supporting cast to reach the level of Mitchell and Washington.
"We've got some strong midfielders with Bo Lepinsky, J. J. Grewe, Jim Deyand Jason Hall, so we've got some good foot skills there," Dey said."This team can score a lot of goals if they'll play passing ball andfind their teammates."