Listen Up

Defender Bobby Boswell leads in his own way, on and off the field

HOU_20100424_Bobby_Boswell_Baggio_Husidic

Photo Credit: 
David Banks / Getty Images

When Bobby Boswell talks, people
listen. They may not believe their ears or like what they hear or have any idea
how to respond, but they listen. His is an influential personality, with or
without the captain’s armband he has worn proudly on his right bicep throughout
much of the season.

When Boswell arrived in Houston in December 2007, he
was parting ways with D.C. United — which he had helped lead to back-to-back
Supporters’ Shield titles — because of a disagreement with then-head coach Tom
Soehn over what Soehn perceived as Boswell’s off-field activities affecting his
play. Upon his arrival with the Dynamo, however, Boswell, still only 24, was
quickly granted a different level of trust.

“I was kind of surprised when
I came in with my locker placement: They put me next to Brian Ching and some of
the veteran guys,” Boswell said. “All the young guys were on one side and the
more veteran guys were on the other, and I knew right away they expected me to
be more of a veteran guy. I still think I’m young — I’m especially young at
heart — but I’ve found myself in a leadership role.”

It is a role Boswell
has embraced, primarily as what Ching termed a “staple” of the Dynamo’s
league-leading defense over the last two years, but also — gradually — as a
leader in the locker room. He may be one of the chief pranksters, responsible
for more frantic searches for missing car keys than any other player, but he
also has gone out of his way to welcome newcomers.

“He took me to dinner
and sat me down and showed me the ropes before I got to know everyone,” said
midfielder Danny Cruz, who arrived as a 19-year-old rookie in 2009. “For me, it
was important that he made me feel accepted and made it all less awkward. I
won’t forget that.”
It comes naturally to Boswell, now in his sixth season in
Major League Soccer after earning a D.C. United contract as an undrafted free
agent in 2005, because he can relate to the younger players just breaking into
the league.

“Bobby’s one of those guys who’s great for a team because he
interacts with everybody and gets along with everybody; he’s a uniting
personality within the team,” says Ching, who rooms with Boswell on road trips.
“He’s always looking to tell a story or be part of a story or tell jokes. He’s
come into our locker room and fit in so well because of that personality, and
the guys take to him. Some of the younger guys look up to him. He’s a people
person.”

In the Dynamo locker room, being a people person for Boswell
means playing jokes on an almost daily basis, and his targets can be anybody
from unsuspecting high school kids from the Dynamo Academy to a World Cup
veteran in Ching.

“It’s the little things with the guys around you in the
locker room that keep it fresh so it’s not monotonous,” Boswell says. “Whether
it’s me putting cookies in Ching’s pockets, and he still hasn’t figured out that
it’s me, or guys taping each other’s lockers shut, or taking each other’s keys
and hiding them … there are plenty of things you can do.”

Interaction is
important to Boswell, seemingly in all aspects of life. He is a Twitter veteran
(he recently switched from @littleboswell to @bobbyboswell) and he remains
active in the Houston community, spending time at the Houston Zoo and working
with a YMCA after-school program. In the offseason, he also went on an Armed
Forces Entertainment trip to visit United States troops at bases throughout the
Pacific.

These are the types of things that raised his public profile in
the first place, especially when publicized in a Cosmopolitan Bachelor of the
Year contest and on his own website, which he is not currently maintaining. But
since the pushback in D.C., Boswell has clearly pulled back a bit from the
limelight.

“Any time you do something in the public spotlight that isn’t
related to the sport, people can question your performance on the field versus
what you’re doing off the field,” Boswell said. “I’ve tried to take a backseat
to doing things off the field, but I’m starting to get a little more comfortable
in Houston, making good contacts and trying to help in the community a little
more.”

That attitude — continuing to participate in community service without
making it the focal point of his reputation — certainly fits in well with his
Dynamo teammates.

“The guys [in Houston] are so active in the community,
and they do it for themselves and the people they’re working with,” Boswell
said. “They don’t do it to earn respect or get written up in the newspaper or
shown on TV, which speaks volumes for the character of the
team.”

Character is undoubtedly something Boswell has brought to the
Dynamo, from the locker-room pranks to the fiery on-field desire. As a center
back in Houston, Boswell has only missed two starts in league play out of 74 and
has also been one of the regulars in cup and international competition. He first
wore the captain’s armband for the Dynamo during last year’s run to the Lamar
Hunt U.S. Open Cup semifinals, and he has reprised the role much of this season
due to Ching’s absence.

“It means a lot,” Boswell said. “It means that
you’ve earned the respect of the guys and the coaching staff. … It’s not about
me as an individual. I have been asked to step into that role, which is
exciting. It’s new and something I’d never done before, but I want to be a guy
that stands up for his teammates on and off the field. Hopefully they feel that
way about me, because these are my friends and my family, during the season and
even when the season’s over. I think maybe that’s the reason I get to wear the
armband.”

Boswell’s contributions extend well beyond just standing up for
his teammates, although he is quick to step in for support with referees or
opponents. He is one of the team’s biggest and loudest communicators on the
field, directing teammates and occasionally admonishing them. That Open Cup run
ended, after all, with Boswell stamping in exhausted disappointment and
frustration after the Dynamo gave up a last-minute goal on the road in Seattle
and eventually lost in extra time. Players know they will get an honest report
from Boswell.

“He’s the best on the field as far as communicating, along
with Pat Onstad,” Cruz said. “Anybody who’s watched us play knows that he’s
yelling the entire time. … He makes sure I know what I did wrong or what I did
right.”

There are plenty of times, however, when Boswell’s actions speak
louder than his words. Long before he was even considered as a candidate to be
captain, he made it a point to applaud supporters’ groups and fans throughout
the stadium after each game, win or lose, often joined by teammates. It may not
be speaking, but it sure is leading, and people tend to pay attention to Bobby
Boswell.