When Andre Hebert talks about his star player Kalani Kossa-Rienzi
, the Berkeley (Calif.)
boys soccer coach can go on and on with praise.
And that's just about Kossa-Rienzi off the field.
"He's one of the nicest kids I've ever coached," Hebert said. "He's just truly a good kid. He's full of life, he's funny. Everybody else likes him, he likes everybody else. It's really surprising -- rarely do you have really good players that don't have some kind of edge."
Kossa-Rienzi has been raised by a pair of humble parents, and it shows. A great kid off the field, Kossa-Rienzi dials it up when he's playing the game he loves.
Kossa-Rienzi, who turns 17 on June 23, is hard working and dedicated to soccer.
"There are a lot of things that have led to where I am today," Kossa-Rienzi said. "Definitely doing a lot of training outside of practice. … To really make it to the next level and get to be playing in college and playing good level of club you need to work outside of just practice."
Kossa-Rienzi is coming off a phenomenal junior season in which he netted 25 goals and 18 assists and was the catalyst in Berkeley's run to win the North Coast Section title.
"He plays direct when he needs to. He's got amazing skills. He's very smart," Hebert said. "We play principles and that last principle is know when to break the principles, and he knows when to break that really well. He can wander and he adjusts to the team and the team adjusts to him."
Usually designated for a senior, Kossa-Rienzi's standout season earned him WACC-Foothill Player of the Year honors. He was also Prep2Prep North Coast Section Player of the Year and second-team All-USA High School Boys Soccer by USA Today.
He is looking to add one more prestigious award to his resume: Allstate All-America Cup participant.
Kossa-Rienzi is one of 250 high school juniors to earn the distinction Allstate All-American and will be considered for participation in the Allstate All-America Cup on July 31 in Orlando. The contest will be broadcast on ESPNU and participants will be honored later that night at halftime of MLS All-Star Game.
Former Major League Soccer and U.S. men's national team members Taylor Twellman and Brian McBride will join the likes of former U.S. women's national soccer team standouts and Olympic gold medalists Julie Foudy and Brandi Chastain to coach and mentor these promising high school players at the event.
"It's very exciting for me and I feel very honored to be selected to do this," said Kossa-Rienzi, who played with the U.S. Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program from 2015-18.
Kossa-Rienzi, a forward, earned his first varsity start as a sophomore. That first season he showed how well-rounded he is as a player.
In the offseason heading into his junior year, Kossa-Rienzi got faster and stronger.
"What sort of separates him is that we play very aggressively, so our wingbacks are sort of on defense in case of emergency only, so we play a 4-3-3," Hebert said. "Oftentimes we'll get caught on the break and he'll be the last guy back tracking the guy down. He is an incredible motor. He's one of the better defenders on the team as well."
Even though he wasn't playing varsity yet as a freshman – Hebert doesn't allow ninth-graders on the team -- Kossa-Rienzi started getting heavily recruited by colleges. After visiting schools, his top two choices came down to Washington and Portland. In late February of this year, Kossa-Rienzi verbally committed to Washington.
"In the grand scheme of things, I felt that Washington was a lot better fit for me and somewhere where I would be more happy than at Portland," said Kossa-Rienzi, who plays club soccer for the Mavericks in the Berkeley area.
The Washington coaches sure like the way Kossa-Rienzi can take over a game. He showed off that dominance in one contest during his junior campaign. Battling the flu, Kossa-Rienzi sat out regulation. With his team trailing 3-1 heading into extra time, Hebert sent his star into the game, and Kossa-Rienzi promptly tallied an assist and scored the tying goal to help his team salvage a tie instead of a loss.
"I'd say that one of my biggest strengths is being able to get past somebody then either by combination or 1-v-1, cross body and then creating," Kossa-Rienzi said. "That's one thing I did a lot during high school season in terms of scoring and getting assists. Also, I think I stay cool and I don't get worked up that much and kind of stay calm. I stay focused in a game and everything, and I'm working on the field."
Kossa-Rienzi is extremely quick and feels very comfortable with the ball on either foot since he has taught himself to be ambidextrous.
Hebert noted bigger players on opposing teams tend to underestimate Kossa-Rienzi sometimes early in games, that's when he takes it to another level.
"He tortures them," Hebert said. "It's always entertaining."