Mealing's Leadership Helping Royals
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
May 17, 2014, 09:39
Darion Mealing scored two goals in a win over the Colonials last week.
PRINCE GEORGE — When Darion Mealing takes the pitch while donning the white and green kits of the Royals, it's hard not to notice him. It's not that Mealing is overly tall or well-built, he is the same size as a number of his teammates, but it's all about his mental acumen for the game of soccer.
Mealing makes decisions on the pitch faster than his teammates and most of his importance to the team is obvious to see. The game slows down for him and the way he's able to survey a defense and break it down in a matter of seconds can be breath-taking. It isn't uncommon for Mealing to glide his way past multiple defenders to get down a flank, outmuscle his way another time or deliver the perfect cross to a waiting teammate in the opponent's box.
It all comes naturally for the senior co-captain of Prince George who grew to love the game from an early age. He was enamored with the way success required everyone to participate and play at an equal level unlike most sports where one individual can dominate. Soccer, at its purest form, is the quintessential team game and it's why the Royals have had so much success this season.
Entering the season with high expectations, Prince George suffered an early season upset loss to Colonial Heights but have since learned from the lesson. Mealing has taken his game to new heights and has helped his teammates follow suit. He's taken to the leadership role not only during games in which he barks out defensive responsibilities, but in practices with his advanced eye for the game.
While all the wins are important to Mealing — the Royals had won 12-straight matches since the loss to the Colonials on March. 27 — he knows his biggest value to the Royals' program is what he can teach his teammates. After all, without those around him playing at an elite-level, success would not come as easily.
"I feel like I'm taking over that leadership role," he said after the Royals defeated Colonial Heights last week. "At practice, I'm teaching them how to possess the ball and control it while looking for those quick, one-two passes."
And it's with Mealing's help, one can see the steadfast climb of the rest of the Prince George roster.
Mitchell Smith has been a key contributor to the attack with his ability to possess the ball as the holding midfielder and delivering it out to the flanks for quick strikes. Additionally, Kam Smith has developed into a solid lone striker for the Royals with his ability to use his body as a shield to maintain possession.
The necessary adjustments have even made their way to Prince George's back four where each player, after going against Mealing in practice everyday, have improved dramatically. In the Royals' win over the Colonials, Cleo Lee made an instinctive kick-save to clear an attempted goal off the line while goalkeeper Logan Chadek slipped while making the initial save.
Then, Chris Harrell has brought an additional dimension to the Knights attack with his speed and the ability to cross the ball into dangerous situations. It has all added up to a loose team on the field because of the streak, but Mealing said he tries to keep them focus.
"We're having a lot of fun. We goof around and stuff and practice is kind of hard to keep them focused," Mealing said. "As a leader, I just need to keep everyone on track to keep this streak going."
But Mealing is doing his part on the field as well.
With his ability to play multiple positions — Prince George head coach Tom Harrison has deployed him as a leftback, midfield and striker option — Mealing can be difficult to mark for any team. Additionally, the senior's speed up the flank is a difference-maker while he has an undervalued physicality to his game. All of it added up to one of the more impressive goals one will see against the Colonials.
Just nine minutes earlier, Mealing's first goal had tied the game and he was not going to let his team's win-streak fall apart on his watch. Knowing he possesses elite speed, Mealing received a pass at midfield, pivoted and immediately attacked down the flank.
He blew by two defenders before finding himself being challenged by tall and lanky Colonials' centerback Jonas Biermann inside the 18-yard box. Instead of being dispossessed, Mealing went shoulder-to-shoulder with Biermann, fighting his way past him before unleashing a left-footed crack at net for the go-ahead goal.
It's the type of play that leaves even opposing coaches and his own in awe.
"Mealing did what he does," Colonials coach J.P. McNulty said after the two-goal effort. "He's a goal-scorer and a game-changer and we don't have the speed, like many teams, to match it."
Added Harrison, "he's a special player. We talk about not having to depend on Darion to do everything for us ... but when does things like that, it's hard to convince the guys otherwise."
Yet, for Mealing, he's not doing anything out of the ordinary. Ever since he first fell in love with soccer, his goal was to be the very best he can be and the scary part for future opponents of the Royals is this — he hasn't reached his best just yet.