PREPS: Cate midfielder is nation's best

Ghanaian forward Ema Boateng, a boarding student at Cate School in Carpinteria, was announced Thursday as the Gatorade National Boys Soccer Player of the Year.

Boateng, 18, scored 32 goals with 19 assists to lead Cate to a 20-2-1 mark and the CIF-Southern Section Division 7 championship and win a second straight divisional Player of the Year honor.

“I’m very overwhelmed,” Boateng told ESPNHS. “I did not see this coming. I’m looking at the list of names of athletes who’ve won this before, and I can’t believe I’m anywhere near this list. I can’t believe I’m on it.”

National Soccer Hall of Famer Alexi Lalas, who won the Gatorade Michigan Player of the Year award in 1988, presented the award to Boateng. Previous winners include another Hall of Famer, Claudio Reyna, plus former U.S. national-teamer Chris Henderson, former MLS stars Matt McKeon, Nick Garcia, Kyle Martino and Alecko Eskandarian, and current MLS players Ned Grabavoy (Real Salt Lake), Jordan Harvey (Vancouver Whitecaps), Lee Nguyen (New England Revolution), Eric Alexander (Portland Timbers) and Soony Saad (Sporting Kansas City).

Harvey, who played at Capistrano Valley High School in Mission Viejo and then at UCLA, won in 2002

Boateng, who carries a 3.75 grade-point average, is a junior but has enough credits to qualify for the NCAA and will play at UC Santa Barbara in the fall.

How good is he?

“In the 14 years I’ve been coaching in Southern California, I haven’t seen anybody close to as good as Ema,” Vishtasp Farhadi, the Development Academy co-director for Irvine Strikers, said in Gatorade's news release. “In terms of maturity and soccer IQ, he’s a very special player. He’s uniquely creative and has amazing vision.

"At the international Milk Cup in Ireland last summer, he became the only American to earn MVP honors in the 30-year history of that tournament. That puts him in the company of people like Wayne Rooney, David Beckham and Giovani dos Santos at the same age. Pretty good company.”

Read the full ESPNHS story here.