WPSL Season Opens: A few words with Ajax America Coach Brian Boswell

The Women’s Premier Soccer League’s Pacific Conference opens this weekend including games in La Canada and at Nansen Field on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, one of the hidden gems of the South Bay and home to 2009 WPSL National Finalist Ajax America.

Ajax America Coach Brian Boswell, a two-time WPSL coach of the year and native of England who is an occasional contributor to this blog, spoke as his team begins their pursuit of a fifth consecutive Pacific Conference title at 2 p.m. Sunday against San Diego WFC at Nansen Field. (Admission by the way is usually free; a hat is generally passed around during the game to help the team offset expenses)

i-a8ecc32c512bbfa19cce58265988232b-brian.jpgQuestion: What’s the after effect locally of the folding of the LA Sol of Women’s Professional Soccer after just one year at Home Depot Center.
Answer: There’s still a definite sense of disappointment. For one year, it was great to see young girls with (the names of Brazilian star) Marta and (USWNT star Shannon) Boxx on the back of soccer shirts and now, it’s back to Beckham. It was a letdown for the families that supported the Sol but unfortunately, there were too few to keep it going another season.

(The team) just lost too much money to tempt in another owner. Will it resurrect? If they set the sights lower and play in a smaller, less-expensive stadium with a better atmosphere. A place like (Titan Stadium at) Cal State Fullerton would be ideal.

Also, do not sign a player of Marta’s stature and wages and then maybe, they could tempt an owner in. According to the WPS hierarchy, they have a couple of interested parties, so who knows?

The Southern California area deserves a women’s team, since so many girls are playing the game. I hope the WPS is working hard to tempt some more West Coast teams in as well. This would create better rivalries and would cut the travel costs a bunch. Unfortunately, there are too many things to do in this area other than go watch a soccer game.

Q: With your affiliate relationship now over with the Sol, what kind of recruiting, coaching and tactical approach are you taking with the team this summer?
A: Our approach is the same as usual. We have a great core and have added some very good players. Week to week, it was nice to have the Sol players, but not knowing who was going to be available to us always made it a bit of a challenge and a balancing act. Last year’s Sol players did a great job for us but through the course of a season, I prefer to have the same group of players playing for each other. It’s more of a team.

Coaching and tactics change a little each year as players come and go and our strengths change. Basically I ask the players to have fun, play hard and leave the rest to me. I understand that playing for Ajax is not the most important thing in their lives. It’s about the fun, the camaraderie and the stuff that happens off-the-field. All my players have lives to lead, careers to be made and at this point, soccer is a relief from the daily grind.

Q: How is the team looking for this summer’s campaign?
A: We are looking good and I’m very happy with our squad right now. We always try to keep a small squad, and my ideal roster is 20 players, while 15 at games is perfect. With that, everyone gets playing time and there are no disappointments. The players are here to play, not watch.

We have picked up some very good players for this year’s team. Our goalkeeper from a few years ago is back after three years in Italy – Anna Picarrelli of the Italian National Team. UCLA’s Jenna Belcher and Kylie Wright and Jess Menzhuber from St. Mary’s have joined us from West Coast F.C. Florida State’s All-American Leah Gallegos is on board while former USWNT member Keri Sanchez – who was with the Sol last year – is staying with us. Sarah McIsaac from UConn is signed as well.

Q: You’ve been with the WPSL since the first matches were played in the league more than ten years ago. What do you think of the league’s evolution into a 50-plus team national women’s soccer league.
A: The league through [WPSL Commissioner] Jerry Zanelli has definitely gained national recognition. Locally, our competition is very good but it always has been in the West. With the North and South Division format, there’s much less traveling now, which makes it much easier for us to continue. I’ve always enjoyed playing in the WPSL: good teams, good people and now that we are expanding, more good teams and more good people.

Q: What has been the secret to the success of Ajax success over the years?
A: It’s about finding the right mix of players – talented players who not only can play together but enjoy each other. It’s so important in the women’s game that the players get on well. It’s the biggest difference in men’s and women’s soccer. In the men’s game, it doesn’t matter if you are liked as long as you can do the job. They only need to like you as a player. The women need to like you not only as a player, but as a person. And it’s the same with the coaching – the women need to like you as a person and not just respect you as a coach.

Q: What have been the biggest lessons you’ve learned as a soccer coach, both on and off the field?
A: The biggest lesson is that there are many things in life more important than soccer – both to the players and myself. I’ve learned to give it my best and make it the best experience I can for the players. I’ve learned to respect the players for who they are, the effort they put in and the work they have done over the years to achieve the level that they are at. I’ve learned that no matter how hard we try, it doesn’t always work, but as long as we put our best into it then we can walk away proud. I’ve learned not to dwell on wins or losses.

I’ve learned the team is more important than the individual, the game more important than the team and both for myself and the players, that family is far more important than the game.

Q: How long do you see yourself coaching?
A: I enjoy it and fortunately, my wife supports it. The last few years I have thought more about stepping aside, but the problem is Ajax has no owner, no money and the coaching staff works for free. Put together, that’s not a good sell to get someone in to take over. If all my players left at once, I could do (leave, too) but as the odd one leaves, new ones join and become apart of the group that I really enjoy and respect. From there, it’s on to another season.

Q: Finally, what are your thoughts on England’s chances in the World Cup? Your adversary in last season’s WPSL National Final – current WPS Philadelphia head coach Paul Riley – picked Fernando Torres and Spain to take it all.
A: My heart says England and they have a chance, but I think Paul is right: Spain are the favored Europeans. However, you can not count out Brazil and Argentina, especially the latter with Messi’s incredible display against Arsenal (in the UEFA Champions League). It will be interesting to see how the teams adapt in South Africa. I think it will favor the Europeans, but more so the Latin teams. I don’t think an African team will do it. They have great individual talent but poor organization.

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About Nick Green

South Bay-based Los Angeles News Group soccer columnist and blogger Nick Green writes at the 100 Percent Soccer blog at www.insidesocal.com/soccer and craft beer at the Beer Goggles blog at www.insidesocal.com/beer. Cheers!