Come to a Dynamo training session and one voice rings out, that of Bobby Boswell.
From a player perspective, the 29-year-old central defender has become perhaps the biggest influence on the manner in which Houston go about their business. Willing and able to hold his teammates accountable in training and during games, Boswell’s imprint on the club is clear he is one of the players steering the Dynamo in the right direction this postseason.
And if things stay the course this Sunday against D.C. in the second leg of the Eastern Conference Championship (3 pm CT, NBC Sports Network, live chat on MLSsoccer.com), Houston could be headed back to the MLS Cup final for the second straight year thanks in large part to the veteran’s influence.
“To be one of his teammates … you see a lot of things he does behind the scenes or in training and the way he pushes the group to get the best out of themselves,” said Calen Carr. “That’s a natural role for him and not just something that is forced.
“The best leaders are the ones that are not necessarily looking for the spotlight, but the guys who want the best for the group and Bobby’s that way.”
Boswell’s brand of leadership looks to be a mix of business and humor.
During the playoffs, the field general has marshaled his troops while mixing in tidbits of encouragement. Off the field, the quick-witted Boswell always seems ready with a joke, keeping the mood light when the situation calls for it.
According to his teammates, it’s his ability to balance those traits that makes him so effective.
“With a long season, it’s so important that you can’t be so serious on the soccer field and then come off and still be serious,” said goalkeeper Tally Hall. “If you do, you’re going to be miserable. He knows when to be in business mode and then there’s the time to have a joke, have a laugh and relax.”
And make no mistake, Boswell has certainly been in business mode this postseason.
The defender is in the midst of a rich vein of form, leading a Dynamo defense that has yielded just three goals in four games. His signature play came when he headed D.C. United forward Lionard Pajoy’s shot off the line in last Sunday’s first leg, but there has rarely been a moment during the playoffs when Boswell put a toe out of place.
“I think Bobby sets the tone,” Carr said. “He’s got a little bit of an attitude about him, which I think is a great personality trait to have, especially for us. You feel like Bobby’s going to win his battle every time, so that gives us confidence going forward.”
While his play has some discussing the center back as an early playoff MVP, Boswell, in the mold of a true leader, is focused on the team rather than himself.
“At the end of the day, you want to win something as a team because it’s so much sweeter when you can celebrate together than when you celebrate individually,” he said. “You look at championship teams and you always say, ‘That was a good team.’ Yeah, they had the guys that string it together, but you look at the teams and say that was a good team and that’s what I want.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.