This article appears in the July 15 gameday magazine. To see the complete magazine, click here.
It would surprise many to look over a resume that includes an MLS Defender of the Year award, multiple visits to training camps with the U.S. men’s national team, 210 regular season appearances and seven trips to the playoffs in eight MLS seasons, and realize that the player was undrafted out of college. That CV, however, belongs to Dynamo defender Bobby Boswell, who earned an opportunity with D.C. United eight years ago and has not looked back, embarking on a career that includes success on the pitch and more than a few stories off of it.
Boswell grew up in Tampa, Fla., another football-crazed state in which men’s college soccer programs were hit hard by Title IX. The best in-state option for Boswell was Florida International University, where he received an academic scholarship and a chance to play soccer with his older brother Billy.
“Sometimes when two people are different they get along better than two people who are alike,” said Boswell about his relationship with Billy. “We definitely have our differences, but my brother made me into the person that I am today and the player that I am. He was always hard on me as an older brother. I think I am where I am because of him.”
Boswell was not selected in the 2005 SuperDraft nor the Supplemental Draft, but had a trial with Viborg FF of the Danish Superliga. Afterward, Boswell was invited to Washington for a spell with D.C. United, which had won its fourth MLS Cup the year before but was in need of a defender. Boswell earned a contract from United and says he never felt upset about going undrafted.
“I never looked at it as a snub or anything like that,” Boswell recalls. “I think there are a lot of good players and it’s hard to pick who’s going be successful and who is not…It’s about the system, the opportunity and how well you do, and I was fortunate to get an opportunity.”
Boswell contributed immediately as a rookie in 2005, making 26 starts in the 32-game regular season and adding three goals and an assist for D.C. United.
“I came into a very good team, with veterans like Jaime Moreno and Ben Olsen and young guys like Freddy Adu and Alecko Eskandarian,” Boswell remembers about his first season in Washington. “Peter (Nowak) was a great coach in that he gave you confidence and all the time you needed to really work on player development. He worked with guys to develop them and I was definitely one of those guys.
“I didn’t play center back in college, I played defensive mid, so to come in and be expected to play center back he worked with me a lot and we watched video on some preseason trips. Every night we would watch video together and he’d show me what he wanted me to do – good plays and bad plays – and he worked with me.”
Olsen, now in his third season as head coach of United, will coach against Boswell, his former teammate, for the third time on Sunday. Boswell appreciates the patience and mentoring Olsen provided him as a youngster in the league.
“Ben Olsen was a veteran guy, and he was great at not letting you get too high or too low,” Boswell reminisces. “He would pull the reigns if he thought you were getting a little ahead of yourself, and there were times if you were getting a little down, and he could sense that, and he would pick you up.”
“I look back on that and think he was probably a little annoyed with me as a snot-nosed young guy who was full of energy that probably annoyed him. Now that I look at it as an older player, I really appreciate the things that he did for me. He kept me going through the hard times, and any good team has some veteran leaders and some good young guys and that’s what we had there. That is similar to what we have right now in Houston.”
In 2006, Boswell completed a remarkable two-year run from undrafted college player to MLS Defender of the Year. The year included his first U.S. men’s national team training camp in January and his first cap in February. His notoriety grew off the field as well, as he appeared in the November issue of Cosmopolitan Magazine as Mr. Virginia on its 50 Most Attractive Bachelors list.
“It was a lot of fun,” Boswell says about the experience with Cosmopolitan. “I think guys give me a harder time about it in the locker room that anywhere else. They (Cosmopolitan) created an email address for me and I got about 300 emails from girls looking for dates and some of it was funny, some of it was sad, and some of it was cool. It’s unfortunate that I’m getting older because I still feel like that 22-year-old kid that I was a few years ago.”
Tom Soehn replaced Peter Nowak as United head coach before the 2007 season and after that campaign Boswell knew it was time to move on.
“I knew guys were getting offloaded and I knew I wanted out,” Boswell recalls. “I had asked for a trade and Tommy (Soehn) and Kevin Payne granted me that wish. I was uncertain of where I would end up but I knew I wanted to go somewhere. When I found out I was coming to Houston I was really happy about it. To go from one great team to another great team was pretty phenomenal.”
The transition was made easier for Boswell by his familiarity with a core of national team players on the Dynamo roster.
“That year (2007) I had been in national team camp with about six of the Houston players, so I knew a lot of the guys, just from being in camp with them, and I really got along with Eddie (Robinson). To come into a place where I was his partner in the back, that was a lot of fun.”
Robinson, the 11-year veteran who won four MLS Cups with Houston and San Jose before retiring this winter, is quick to tell you what has helped Boswell achieve success in MLS.
“To be a good defender, you have to take pride in it,” Robinson declares. “To really be good, and to make forwards not want to play against you, you have to take pride in defending and Bobby does. Not just from a personal standpoint, but from a team standpoint. His communication, his encouragement to the forwards and the midfielders, to defend, he takes pride in defending and keeping clean sheets”
It also helps to stay on the field, something that has come remarkably easy to Boswell in his career. Boswell has started at least 22 games in every season of his career and has played full time in 28 consecutive MLS games since Sept. 14, 2011.
“I always joke around with the guys. I say, ‘You have to have muscles to tear them,’” Boswell says half-jokingly. “I don’t necessarily have those fast-twitch fibers, but all joking aside, I’ve been blessed with good genes. My parents are pretty tough and I think having three older brothers definitely toughened me up.
Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear appreciates Boswell, who has become a fixture in his backline since the 2007 trade brought Boswell to Houston.
“Bobby is very durable and rarely misses games or practices,” Kinnear said. “He is a good communicator, an honest defender, and he does well on set pieces for and against. He is a good example for a lot of young players when they come through. He’s always available. He’s as honest as they come. When he plays well, our teams plays well. He passes the ball well out of the back. He’s confident and overall a good, solid defender for us.”
Boswell is thankful for his health and insists that there are no real secrets to his durability.
“I think I’ve only missed one game due to an illness, but I don’t think I’ve ever missed a game due to an injury. I’d like to keep it that way. There’s no off-field secret. I drink my milk in the morning and I show up ready to work every day and it has worked out for me.”