Battle For Los Angeles: Los Angeles Strikers
By Simon Allen
Los Angeles has three women's soccer teams that some consider top tier. (Me being one of those people!) The National Women's Soccer League may have the top names on the pitch but without LA being represented, fans of the beautiful game are left looking for a team to support.
Enter the Los Angeles Strikers of the W-League. Founded in 2011 by local business man Steve Miller, The Strikers bring a passionate professionalism to the women's game. From new Head Coach, Tracey Kevins to General Manager (and Radio Soccer Pundit) Vanessa Valentine to The Black Army fans that follow the club, Strikers fans know that the team is ready for a tough season and ready to showcase their brand of soccer at multiple Los Angeles Derbies.
Heading the team is Coach Tracey Kevins who as brought in a different philosophy to the Strikers. Kevins took over in February after leaving a successful stretch with Barnet Ladies FC in England. She had served The Bees as manager since 2005 but had been with Barnet since 1989 as a player and as a reserve team manager. As Coach, Kevins won eleven trophies and was named 2010's Manager of the Year at the FA Women's Football Awards.
Kevins has also brought over Victoria Boardman from Barnet. “She has played with the U18 England National team and was a former member of both the FA Women’s International Player Development Centre at Loughborough and Arsenal Ladies Academy. In her second season with the Millwall Lionesses, she scored eight goals and helped lead her team to the FA Women’s Premier League (South) Title. In 2010, she signed with the Barnet FC Ladies and played a pivotal role in saving the team from relegation. Her Barnet team went on to win the FA Women’s Premier League Cup with Victoria netting in the penalty shoot-out victory.”
In attack The Strikers have brought in Gemma Bryan from Charlton Athletic Ladies FC. Bryan has been described as “an imposing striker with great physical presence and pace in abundance.” All eyes will be on Bryan this season to duplicate her London goal scoring ways in Los Angeles.
I had a chance to ask Coach Kevins some questions regarding the new W-League Season.
Simon: I've been thinking about this and asking a few folks...One of the things that NWSL did is leave a gap in LA that the W-League is filling. The potential “craziness” that can go on with three teams in LA...are you thinking about the massive marketing potential that three women's soccer teams can bring to the City of Los Angeles?
Tracey: It is disappointing that LA does not have a pro team and ultimately...we now have to attract that supporter to the W-League and show them what quality there is amongst the three teams.
Simon: How are you preparing for the new season?
Tracey: I made a decision before I got here that in order for the players to gel and for me to put across how I wanted them to play that we would need to be training like a professional side...and have sessions 5 to 6 times a week. The players have responded brilliantly and their commitment to the club has been excellent...and this I'm sure will stand them in good stead for the season.
Simon: So you've been preparing more like an a squad would do in England?
Tracey: I was with my last club for 9 years so the biggest changes have been that I have had to get the players to buy into my philosophy of how I want us to play. But pre-season is the same whether in England or USA...get the players to peak fitness and improve the sharpness on and off the ball.
Simon: There are some new faces at The Strikers...Tell me about your staff and what they bring to the organization?
Tracey: We have an outstanding set of staff at our club. Our owner Steve Miller works so hard to keep on improving this club...does an incredible job of promoting and marketing the Strikers so that we continue to grow our fan base and grow the business side of the club.
Our GM Vanessa Valentine is so passionate about this club having previously played for us and is driven to take this club forward to what we all believe it has the potential to be. On the coaching side I have Matt Stephenson I as my assistant. Matt and I share a philosophy of how we believe the Strikers need to play in order to be successful in this league. His attention to detail is one of his biggest strengths.
Mazen Chami comes in this season as our goalkeeper coach... he has coached at Division One Colleges on the East Coast... and he provides key technical information to the goalkeepers...we have Dave Copeland-Smith...who comes on board as our Technical Coach. Dave has worked one-on-one with some of this country's best female players and... more importantly has continued to improve them. This group of staff will ensure that all of the players individual needs are taken care to ensure that the players bring their best every training session and match day.
Simon: What about the team? What's different about Your Squad this year compared to last year?
Tracey: I have only retained a handful of last years squad as ultimately it was not a good enough squad last season as the league table shows...The players that remain are quality and have impressed me with their technical ability coupled with a first class work rate and ethic. I have added players on from both abroad and US based players who have experience of what it takes to be a winner and who want to win honors with his team.
Simon: So are there any players we should be looking out for this season?
Tracey: From a media or fan point of view...our Internationals will attract attention but our strength this season is The Team.
Simon: I asked the other Los Angeles coaches, so I will ask you too...could The Western Conference go toe-to-toe with the NWSL? Business wise and soccer wise!
Tracey: Off the field we are working hard to be pro! We are marketing ourselves and looking to attract new fans to add to our fan base we have a full time GM who is dedicated with our owner to growing us. On the field we are aiming to improve on our previous standings and build a club that can challenge every season at the higher echelons of the Championship...but ultimately without the financial backing and the quality of player that the Pro teams have available to them it would be virtually impossible to compete.
Simon: With three tough teams in Los Angeles what can you tell Strikers fans to expect?
Tracey: I believe the games will be closely fought. But Strikers fans should know that this team has real quality throughout it and will fight and compete for every minute of this season.
Simon: So...and I've asked this to all the coaches in LA... how will you win The Battle For Los Angeles?
Tracey: The Battle For Los Angeles will be fought over the course of the season & not over one game. Ultimately we have to perform week in and week out whether it is against an LA based team or not.
The Los Angeles Strikers have been working hard during the off season to prepare. Last year was less than stellar in terms of table standings, they were below Santa Clarita Blue Heat and Pali Blues. But the performances on the pitch were exciting and fun to watch for the casual fan. Folks who ventured to LA to watch were always entertained and pleased with the level of soccer being played. This pre season has been all business and casual observers can see the entire organization coming together to make it the best one yet. From an injured player video taping the pre season scrimmages to the owner watching every second of them in the stands- the entire LA Strikers are ready for the challenge that is The Battle For Los Angeles.