A Few Words With two Ajax America veterans on the eve of the WPSL championship weekend

Ajax America Women of the Women’s Premier Soccer League team play the Oklahoma Alliance in the final four Saturday in Dallas. On Sunday, the victor faces the winner of the Boston Aztec Breakers Reserves-F.C. Milwaukee Nationals semifinal.

On Friday defender Dani Bosio of Ajax America (and midfielder Ann Marie Tangorra of LAFC Chelsea) were named Pacific Co-Player of the Year. Bosio and 2009 Pacific Conference Co-Player Of The Year Shannon Cross spoke about the veteran core of Rolling Hills Estates-based Ajax that has propelled the team to a record fifth consecutive final four this year.

Question: Ajax stumbled into the Pacific playoffs this year with a 1-2-1 record in the last four matches. Then, the playoffs start and Ajax beats two top teams to make the final four. What happened? Did the proverbial “light” turn on?
Bosio answers: The second half of the season was a little rough – (I’m) not going to lie. We definitely made the road to the playoffs quite difficult with our performance in the latter half of the season. I think the problem was that we weren’t playing as a cohesive unit. We were focusing on our individual games instead of collectively working together as a team.

Finally, the week before playoffs, the “old timers” (Ajax veterans) came together and decided that we would not let this year pass us by. Our team this year is quite young and a lot of the younger players needed to be taught the Ajax mentality: “Work hard for each other on the field and have fun doing it!” I think we’ve got everyone on the same page now and it’s definitely evident on the field.

Cross answers: This year we had a lot of changes to the roster and while the level of talent was never the issue, the veteran players did need to get everyone on the same page. Ajax has a lot of history that goes beyond what any of us current players have been a part of. We needed to remember and honor that and I could not have been more proud of the way our team stepped up this past weekend versus California (in a 3-0 win in the Pacific Final).

Q: Ajax is making their fifth consecutive Final Four appearance – a WPSL record. How has the team been able to string together such an impressive run of play?
Bosio answers: Since the moment I joined Ajax in 2006, I was indoctrinated with the Ajax mentality that I referenced above. I play soccer because I love it and I love spending time with my teammates. It’s easy to lose touch with that notion when you get caught up in the intense demands of coaches, playing time and pressure of performing at the highest levels in the game. We’ve been able to string such an impressive run of play because we all share the same mindset. … I get to take a little vacation each weekend from my chaotic work week schedule to play soccer with a group of my best friends and we have a blast together both on and off the field. This camaraderie is the essence of our success! Sure we’re all fantastic soccer players, but I don’t think we’d be as successful as we are without our communal passion for soccer and our friendships.

Cross answers: It is tough keeping a team together and successful that isn’t bound by school or professionalism. Ajax has been able to do that for years. … It is the love of the game that keeps us together and keeps us successful. The large majority of us have graduated college, have jobs, some have families and as a result – soccer can’t be our No. 1 priority all of the time, but we share the same passion and love for the game. So for at least two days a week, we can forget everything else, just play and play with and for our teammates that have become friends and family. Some players come and go. Some have been playing for this string of five consecutive Final Fours, but it is the leadership of the veterans and mentality we all share that keeps the winning tradition alive.

Q: Ajax Coach Brian Boswell may be one of the best women’s soccer coaches in the world. What influence has he had on your career?
Cross answers: I have known Brian since I was 11 or 12 years old, and he has always been a calm and steady influence. He trusts his players, their experience and ability. If things aren’t working or players make a mistake, it doesn’t turn to panic. It isn’t a matter of if – but when – things will turn around. As a result, everyone is able to be more relaxed and confident. Brian is thus able to get the most out of every player.

With Ajax he knows we can’t dedicate as much time or energy as we all would like. Therefore, when we are out there the reasons we are there – fun and love for the game and team – are never allowed to be forgotten. It is amazing how much better people play when they are truly enjoying what they do.

Lastly, here’s the All-Pacific Conference First Team announced Friday:

goalkeeper Cori Alexander (California Storm); defenders Dani Bosio (Ajax America), Haley Abbott (North Bay Wave FC), Elise Britt (LAFC Chelsea); midfielders Ann Marie Tangorra (LAFC Chelsea), Keri Sanchez (Ajax), Marissa Mykines (Spokane Black Widows), Nina Watkins (North Bay Wave FC); forwards Anessa Patton (Clovis Sidekicks),
Fiona O’Sullivan (Storm), Nicole Wilcox (BSC Portland Rain)

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