Back on top again

For someone so young, 15-year-old Forest Park soccer player Kim Bonilla has tasted an amount of success and hard luck that most players don’t ever come close to in their entire playing careers.

The precocious military brat qualified for the 2001 U.S. National, 16-and-under team as a 14-year-old last December. However, a knee injury suffered at the U.S. camp in Chula Vista, Calif. this February blew her opportunity to play on the national stage this summer. But thanks to her prodigious ability on the field and hard work off of it, Bonilla got another chance and she made the most of it.

For the second straight time, she qualified for the U-16 national team. It was the culmination of a year-long battle with a knee injury that limited her to just one-regular season game for the Bruins in the spring of 2001.

“I was overwhelmed,” said Bonilla, a striker who’s played soccer since she was nine years old. “It was a great feeling because this year was one of the hardest years because of my surgery. I had to overcome it so it felt more glorified than the first time [I made it].”

The injury also shed light on just how important soccer was to Bonilla, who’s ultimate dream is to make the U.S. National team.

“I’m trying to have a new focus and how I picture soccer,” Bonilla said. “A lot of people didn’t have an opportunity [to make the nationals] so I was really fortunate to go. This could be my last game, you never know, so I try to do my best.”

Rob Drake, Bonilla’s Prince William Soccer Inc. Eclipse club coach, wasn’t surprised with Bonilla’ selection either time.

“The kid actually takes the chances she has to watch games on TV and to watch films, and because of that, her tactical vision and her ability is far more superior than kids her age,” Drake said. “She sees the game at a level that’s much higher than the age group she plays in.”

And there’s no limit to what Bonilla can do, says Drake.

“My wife [Diane Drake] coaches at Georgetown and she sees all levels of kids and I was telling her that Kim Bonilla could be the next Mia Hamm,” Drake said. “She suffered an injury that set her back quite a bit and she had no confidence. But ever since she went back to [national] camp, the past couple of weeks she was back to where she was before the injury. She has the potential to definitely play Division I soccer. She’s one of those players that can pick and choose where she wants to go.”

Much of Bonilla’s love for the game came from her family’s interest in the sport. Her father, Edward, played on the All-U.S. Army team and her uncle was an avid soccer player. When Bonilla moved to Prince William County from San Francisco at the age of nine, she started to play soccer competitively.

And it wasn’t long before her coaches realized what kind of talent they had on her hands.

“You always can tell if someone is special if you’ve been around coaching long enough,” said Drake, who’s also coached select soccer in Ohio and North Carolina. “You can watch a kid warm up and tell if she has it or not. She [Bonilla] was always one of those players that you knew she would be special, and in the last year and a half, she broke out and became that extra special kid.”

“She has great improvisational ability and she makes very everyone around her better,” added Forest Park coach Dave Cresswell.

Cresswell has only coached Bonilla in a preseason scrimmage, one regular-season contest and two Cardinal District tournament games, and in none of the contests was Bonilla’s knee healed. Yet the freshman made quite an impression, scoring multiple goals against Colonial Forge in a 6-0 scrimmage victory and chipping in a goal in both a regular-season win over Osbourn Park and a postseason victory over Gar-Field.

“I have never seen her at 100 percent and even then, she was explosive and she did well on the ball,” Cresswell said.

“After my surgery, before and after [the game] is when the pain kicked in,” Bonilla said. “Once I was in the game, I was in the mood and it just felt right.”

With a healthy knee, Bonilla should be doing quite fine, both this year and in what looks like a bright future.

“At this age, she is a very, very special player,” Drake said. “She’s by the far and away the most special kid I have ever coached. She can pretty much do it all.”

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