Jamie Ayala, left, and the San Diego SeaLions have had one of the biggest turnaround in the league this season. [Walt Johnston Photography]
The San Diego SeaLions have been a WPSL powerhouse for the past decade. The team has reached the playoffs in seven of the past 10 seasons and has won three WPSL Championships since the league’s inauguration in 1998.
Last season though, the team failed to live up to their usual expectations. The team stumbled to a 1-3-4 record, failing to win more than a single game in conference play.
This season though, under the tutelage and leadership of coach Lu Snyder, the team has rallied to win the San Diego Division after losing only one game on the season.
The team plays as a well-oiled machine. Team President Scott Dreher was adamant about the fact that the team is a collection of talent that has meshed into one dominant group rather than 11 players.
Still, one player has led the way offensive: Forward Kiera Bocchino.
“Kiera is always in the right place,” Dreher said. “She will drift out wide, press the defensive line in the middle, or come deep to get the ball. Regardless, we never worry about whether she will be in the right place at the right time.”
More than her impact on the field, Bocchino also brings leadership to the SeaLions. A two-time captain at UC San Diego, Bocchino is a natural leader willing to ask her teammates for the very best in terms of effort and mental focus.
Defensively the team has been phenomenal, only conceding eight goals throughout the season. The SeaLions combination of offensive explosiveness and defensive continuity should present some problems for the defending champion Sounders, when they matchup this Saturday. The two teams have battled in a number of playoff appearances, and Dreher is looking forward to seeing the rivalry renewed this Saturday.
“We’ve come up against them several times over the past few years,” Dreher said. “Obviously being affiliated with the Sounders, that’s a big deal. At the same time, we’ve been around 31 years. We’ve been in the league 21 years. We’ve been here before. We’re certainly not intimidated. We know it will be a big game but if we do what we do we have our best chance at winning.”
The SeaLions turnaround has been sparked by a cultural shift towards collectivism and solidarity. Dreher lauded Snyder’s ability to demand a lot from the players without compromising her relationship with the team. Her ability to foster mutual respect between the players and the coaching staff has built a foundation of trust critical to pursuing any meaningful run in the postseason.
Snyder’s leadership as a former goalkeeper with the club, has brought the best out of every single player on the roster. Developing, in Dreher’s eyes, a team of 11 teammates rather than individuals.
“This is not a team of eight supporters and two or three megastars,” Dreher said. “Team itself becomes the superlative player because it functions really well as a unit.”
Off the field, the SeaLions are a collective unit as well, always seeking out opportunities to support the local soccer community. The team’s goal is to develop and create soccer opportunities for women, whether it be in business, playing, or coaching. The team works with various local clubs, running clinics and fundraisers to foster growth in women’s soccer throughout the greater San Diego area. This past season the club worked with Legacy Laces, a non-profit that gathers youth soccer cleats for kids that cannot afford new gear.
As the SeaLions look to extend their postseason run, they hold a high example of what it means to be a WPSL franchise. The team has witnessed a remarkable turnaround, built on unity, community outreach, and love for the game. Regardless of how the postseason plays out, the SeaLions truly represent what it means to be a champion.