The voice on the other end of the line was very familiar, but the discussion topic was brand new. Randy Waldrum hadn’t called Brittany Bock to reminisce about their time together at Notre Dame. The head coach was stitching together his roster for the expansion Houston Dash and Waldrum was getting in touch to let the midfielder know he wanted her to be a central part of it.
Bock was a stand-out with the Fighting Irish under Waldrum’s tutelage from 2005-08, earning Big East Co-Offensive player of the year honors in her junior year. The Illinois native was the first player selected by the Dash in the expansion draft and Waldrum likes her style, viewing her as a midfield metronome who can set the team’s pace with her all-action approach. Dash by nature—and now Dash by name.
“Outside of the fact that I think that she’s a really good soccer player, she’s just got this winning heart and competitive drive with her. She’s fearless with her tackling, she’s fearless in the air, you don’t really see that much in the women’s game,” Waldrum told HoustonDashSoccer.com.
“Sometimes fearless to a fault—sometimes she should be a little smarter in realizing that’s not the place to make the tackle, a ‘live for another day’ kind of thing—but she doesn’t know that, she’s full blast and 100 miles an hour all the time. I just love that competitive drive. She hates to lose, she makes other players around her better. That’s kind of why we recruited her at Notre Dame and she had a great career for us there.”
Bock was eager to reunite with Waldrum. “He called me up and told me he wanted me and it felt good to be wanted that bad. So it definitely makes you want to play for a coach like that when they show so much interest and give you so much support,” she told HoustonDashSoccer.com.
“I was in Wyoming with my sister and got the news about the team and Randy and I was like, what? That’s crazy! And all of a sudden, the expansion draft and getting a phone call, and I get butterflies … It’s been five years since I’ve played for him so I’ve grown as a player and he’s continued to grow as a coach.”
Bock’s history testifies to the sometimes turbulent nature of professional women’s soccer in this country. She played for the Los Angeles Sol in 2009. When they folded she moved to the Washington Freedom, then on to the Western New York Flash in 2011, winning the WPS title. When WPS shut down in 2012, Bock joined the Colorado Rush in the W-League. The following year she signed with New Jersey’s Sky Blue FC in the newly-formed NWSL, but injuries limited her appearances. When Sky Blue left her unprotected for January’s draft, the Dash pounced.
She thinks that operating under the control of an MLS parent in a big city could be a significant asset for the Dash, as has proved the case in Portland. “It’s just a great community first of all in Houston, the people here, the support, but also the professionalism within the club,” she said. “We are starting completely new but we’ve got management who’ve gone through that with the Dynamo. I think it should be something great here … There’s a great support system.”
Aged 26, Bock is eager to embrace a leadership role with the Dash both on and off the field. “I’ve always enjoyed doing that but I’ve been playing with so many veterans in the pro league so at times I’ve taken, not a back seat, but there’ve been so many people that you’re looking up to,” she said.
“I’m one of the more veteran players on this team, I do think I have a lot of experience to offer. It’s great because I think I’m a very approachable person. You’ve got rookies who are coming, 22 years old, and I’m 27 this year. So I’m not too much older but they’re looking up to us older ones. I’m telling some of them, don’t be afraid, you guys are here for a reason.”
That reason is the 2014 NWSL season, which gets underway at BBVA Compass Stadium on April 12 when the Dash debut at home to the reigning champions, the Portland Thorns (TICKETS). Preseason training began last week and the team’s first-ever match went well: a 4-0 victory over Rice University in a scrimmage on Wednesday. Next up is the first of two scrimmages against a talented Texas A&M side at Houston Sports Park on Saturday (10 a.m. CT). Waldrum is using preseason matches to develop cohesion between the contracted players and to assess the trialists.
“I thought the trialists did really well [against Rice],” he said. “We’re getting closer to making decisions on those eight players we still need to make a decision on in the next week.” Waldrum said he was happy with elements of the performance in the second half, when the team mostly contained contracted players. “Bits and pieces I was pleased with, bits and pieces I think we still have a long way to go,” he said.
“We moved a few players into new positions that we’re looking at, like we moved Ella Masar into midfield and she’s spent her whole pro career up front, I thought she did very well for us in midfield. We moved Nikki Washington from forward into outside back. She’s coming off an injury so I only played her for about 25, 26 minutes but I thought she adapted well. She’s one that could make a really good outside back for us because she’s so good at getting up and down the line and she’s such a great athlete.”
After a week and a half of training and intra-squad games, Bock was excited to pull on a Dash jersey and face another team. While there are plenty of creases to iron out, as would be normal for any side at this stage, let alone a brand-new club, it was a reminder that the curtain-raiser against Portland is coming soon.
“It’s right around the corner and we’re a completely new team so we’re still getting used to each other, the playing style, how the flow of the game’s going to go,” she said. “It was fun to get a game in.” And enjoyable to play in fresh surroundings for a coach who helped her flourish at college. “It’s fun to have some familiarity,” she said. “I remember us buzzing at Notre Dame.”