After a series of successes, GM, coach set new goals

After a series of successes, GM, coach set new goals
San Diego SeaLions’ head coach Jen Lalor-Nielsen (center) meets with players on the field last season. This year, Nielsen and general manager Amie Becker are setting new goals for the team. Photo by Aaron Jaffe

COAST CITIES — As far as general manager/head coach relationships go, this one they describe as “wonderful.” Three years ago, San Diego SeaLions’ general manager Amie Becker brought on head coach Jen Lalor-Nielsen and ever since then Becker has credited much of the team’s successes to her.

And along with their increase in success, so too has the team’s expectations — this year, like the last three years, they’re expecting to win the WPSL (Women’s Premier Soccer League) Title.

The SeaLions, this year, are also celebrating their 25th year in existence this year. Formed in 1988, the SeaLions now play in the WPSL, an amateur national independent league, of which Nielsen was a former player, and, in 2012, an inductee into the league’s hall of fame.

Nielsen’s experiences as a player has extended across nearly every facet of the game available for women players, ranging from the U.S. National team, winning a bronze medal during the 1995 World Cup games, to playing professionally for teams overseas.

And with this year marking the inaugural season of the NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League), the team has set its sites on joining the league.

The team has already expressed interest to the league to join, and while the NWSL didn’t accept any California teams this season, if there’s a planned expansion next season to the region, the SeaLions will increase their efforts to join, Becker said.

San Diego SeaLions' general manager Amie Becker (right) with former SeaLions player and current U.S. National Team player Rachel Buehler. Photo by Aaron Jaffe

San Diego SeaLions' general manager Amie Becker (right) with former SeaLions player and current U.S. National Team player Rachel Buehler. Photo by Aaron Jaffe

Becker said that the new league is taking the right approach when it comes to starting a new professional women’s soccer league. In prior attempts, the problem, she said was that it wasn’t built up at the grassroots level.

San Diego SeaLions’ general manager Amie Becker (right) with former SeaLions player and current U.S. National Team player Rachel Buehler. Photo by Aaron Jaffe

San Diego SeaLions’ general manager Amie Becker (right) with former SeaLions player and current U.S. National Team player Rachel Buehler. Photo by Aaron Jaffe

“They didn’t start it slowly and then gradually build it to something bigger,” she said. “They wanted it to be like an NFL-type of league at the beginning, which just isn’t possible.”

But the game of soccer is very healthy in San Diego, Becker said. “San Diego is kind of a hot bed for soccer in general, and I think there’s plenty of women playing here and there’s a huge adult soccer league as well; tons of youth, obviously. So, I think here it’s thriving, it’s not a matter of at this level, it’s a matter of whether or not it’s thriving at the pro level.”

The new league has gotten U.S. Soccer involved and has put money in and is also subsidizing the salaries of the National Team’s players so that the NWSL has a better chance of succeeding.

Getting the SeaLions ready for that next level is Nielsen’s next challenge, as they get closer to solidifying their roster this season, which opens on the road May 19.

Nielsen said that their team was at the potential now, where they should be winning the championship, and could be winning it.

“We are a great team that year after year, even keeps getting better,” Nielsen said. “I think that among all of the teams in the WPSL, definitely we are at the top.

“The last two years it has been hurtful, because we have been knocked out in the regional finals, and we were probably expected to win last year’s game.”

But with rising expectations for another winning season and a potential move into a professional league next season, Becker and Nielsen will be searching for those core players that will be going with them to the next level.

“I think the hardest part is having everybody understand and see our expectations and know their roles on the team, whether they’re going to be with us or not,” Nielsen said.

They’re also strengthening their message to the team in terms of fitness and commitment levels.

“When you show them the way, they buy into it and they give you 100 percent,” Nielsen said.

When the roster comes together at the beginning of May, Nielsen said any other messages or statements given to the team would come as the team evolves.

“Those messages are defined,” she said. “You don’t just throw them into something. As a coach I wait and see where is the right statement, the right saying.”

The SeaLions will have their home opener June 9 at Cathedral Catholic High School against the Ajax America Women.

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