The Battle For Los Angeles: Santa Clarita Blue Heat
Santa Clarita California. Located 30 miles from Down Town Los Angeles, it's known more for Six Flags Magic Mountain than soccer. In the early 2000's, Santa Clarita boasted one of the best (and least known) Amateur Men's Leagues in California. In 2010, Carlos Marroquin founded The Santa Clarita Blue Heat and entered the USL-W League.
Enter Coach Rodwell. In 1992 Anthony Rodwell helped Blackpool FC get promoted to Division Two. Playing alongside future England international Trevor Sinclair he was an integral part of the squad. He was third highest goalscorer that season. In 2013 and In the Battle For Los Angeles, SC Blue Heat are counting on Rodwell to lead them to glory.
"Tony is a great guy and I have all the trust in the world in him” said Marroquin to The W-League Website. So I asked Rodwell some questions recently and here's what the new coach said.
Simon: Are you thinking about the massive marketing Potential that three women's soccer teams can bring to the City of Los Angeles?
Anthony: It'll be great for the city having three good soccer teams in LA ensuring a lot of derbies for the fans to enjoy. It'll also raise the profile of soccer especially if all three teams do well in the league. It will therefore make the marketing of all the teams in LA easier to get the fans and companies involved.
Simon: How are you preparing for the new season?
Anthony: I will be arriving in LA on the 13th of May so will not have much time to see the players train and play in person before our first match. I will assess what we need to do to maximize the players at my disposal once we've had a few training sessions.
Simon: Is there a big difference between preparing for the new season in Los Angeles compared to England?
Anthony: No... it is very similar. Every team at any standard needs to prepare 100% for the season so that they can use the full potential of every member of their squad.
Simon: Tell me about your staff and what they bring to the table.
Anthony: Carlos Marroquin is the owner of Blue Heat, Jose Meza is my assistant coach (head coach Santa Clarita Storm men's team), Alejandro (Carrero) is goal keeping coach. I haven't personally met some of them but they come with vast experience, knowledge and enthusiasm.
Simon: What's different about Your Squad this year compared to last year?
Anthony: We have lost key a player in Edite Ferandes but we have kept the core from back to front with the return of goalkeeper Cynthia Jacobo, Katie Russ at centre back and Portuguese international Ana Borges out wide. We also have Liz Franco back after a short spell at Pali last year. There will also be a few new additions but also a lot of familiar faces.
Simon: Are there any players we should be looking out for this season?
Anthony: Obviously the players I mentioned... but every player in the squad will have an opportunity to make a name for themselves.
Simon: Your daughter plays for the team...was she a big influence on you to move to LA and coach the Blue Heat?
Anthony: Oh Yes! She is very enthusiastic about the soccer scene in LA and how serious and dedicated all of the three teams are.
Anthony: Without the money to back it, it has to be no. As in all sports money talks and that is what keeps things moving and attracts players. I think it has the potential and with the right backing it could compete both business and soccer wise but the money has to be within the franchises and the league before that can happen.
Simon: With three tough teams in Los Angeles what can you tell Blue Heat fans to expect?
Anthony: They can expect a fully committed Blue Heat team...who will give everything to make sure Blue Heat play to their potential with exciting soccer and a lot of passion.
Simon: What do you know about the other two LA teams?
Anthony: I know they take their soccer very serious and will be physically prepared and both have strong squads with big names. Pali (Blues) coach Charlie Naimo has had them challenging for the last few seasons and The (LA) Strikers have a new English coach so their players will be trying to impress for the coming season.
Simon: How will you win The Battle For Los Angeles?
Anthony: Blue heat will be organized and committed...they will try and win every game this season... not just the derbies. We will have to play to our maximum with passion and exciting soccer.
One player that Blue Heat will be without this season is, Portugal National Team Forward, Edite Fernandes. She scored 3 out of the 4 goals in SC Blue Heats last game of last season (which just happened to be against The LA Strikers) and was one of the best players in the W-League Last Season. In the 2011 Season, Fernandes was fourth in the W-League in goals scored,points and assist. She was named an MVP Finalist and a member of the All-League Team. However this season, though sorely missed Fernandes will be returning from Portugal, not to play for SC Blue Heat but to play for Cross Town Rivals- Pali Blues. A bit of delicious transfer news that will only add spice to the rivalry in Los Angeles.
Fortunately for Blue Heat fans, Fernandes compatriot Ana Borges did make the journey back to Santa Clarita and fans of Women's Soccer will be wondering if one half of the Portuguese Duo will can take on more responsibility this season.
Also on the Roster is Natalia Gomez-Junco. A member of the Mexican U-20 National Team, Gomez-Junco is a player to watch and fans of Women's Soccer will remember her having a easy time against New Zealand at the 2012 U-20 World Cup. Gomez-Junco might very well be the big goal scorer for Blue Heat this season. I had a chance to talk to Gomez-Junco for my podcast-The World Wide Soccer Podcast.
Simon: You're American College trained in Memphis...How did the Mexican National team find you?
Natalia: I'm actually at LSU right now...I just transferred so it's a really cool experience...But for the National Team...It was a few years back I was playing for my State Team....from Mexico and I went to the National Olympics where the National Team Coaches go to recruit players....so they watched me play...and I ended up going to one of the camps.
Simon: Did Leo Cuellar (Head Coach of The Mexican Women's National Team) Spot you?
Natalia: Yes. He's the one that does the actual recruiting. He's the one that overviews everything...starting from the recruiting all the way to training. He's been my coach...there...all along. Along with other coaches like Roberto Medina and several others that have been..U-20 coaches.
Simon: Whats the difference between the day to day coaching from College Level to National Team Level?
Natalia: Between The US College Style and The Mexican way of Coaching...it's the style of play...here in the US it's more directed towards a physical game. Whereas in Mexico..it's directed toward skill. (Here) it's be tougher and more athletic!.. though LSU is more of a possession team.
Simon: Have you had much experience with the coaches in W-league and Santa Clarita Blue Heat?
Natalia: No this will be my first experience with the W-League on any team so I'm pretty excited to see what challenges come up.
Simon: The W-League's Western Conference is the toughest and you have 3 tough teams in LA. Have people told you about the competition in LA.
Natalia: ...Santa Clarita is a very good...and...I know there's a lot of International players in Santa Clarita....from Portugal...which I've actually played against actually....
Simon(interrupts): Wait! You've played against your club teammates? Tell me about that.
Natalia: I played “against” them so I don't really know their names (laughs)...I played in Portugal, in the Algarve Cup. With the Mexican Team, we played against Portugal and after the game Leo told me that some of the Portuguese players were going to be playing with me in the Blue Heat in Santa Clarita.
Simon: Coach Rodwell, what do you know about him?
Natalia: I haven't met him (as of this writing) But I'm going to go in and do my best and play like me.
Simon: Going into the season...Do you know anything about the other two Los Angeles Teams?
Natalia: I feel very bad...but no, I haven't done a lot of research. I think we should improve as much as we and with that we should be able to compete against any other team. It's going to be interesting to play against the other LA teams.
Throughout our conversation Gomez-Junco spoke about The Mexican National team and moving up to the Senior squad as well as how excited she was about playing The Los Angeles Derbies. You can hear the rest of the interview on the Podcast. The Battle For Los Angeles will have a lot of players to watch out for. Gomez-Junco is one to watch.
Santa Clarita play The Los Angeles Strikers on May 31st and Pali Blues on June 2nd for the Battle For Los Angeles.