Women's Soccer News: WPSL San Diego SeaLions Host the Western Regional Playoffs Saturday in San Diego. Star player Rosie Tantillo Speaks Out on How "Things Are Going Our Way!"
Few players have the experience and the prowess on the soccer field as Rosie Tantillo. A leader on and off the field, Tantillo chats with Scott French on how things are going well for her team, the San Diego SeaLions.
Rosie Tantillo leads the San Diego SeaLions into this weekend's Western regional tournament, which will produce one of four teams for the Women's Premier Soccer League's (WPSL) championship weekend, and she's certainly one of the players to keep an eye on.
Tantillo, 27, was an All-American at USC who won championships in the W-League (with the Pali Blues) and in Women's Professional Soccer (WPS with FC Gold Pride). Now she's looking to add a WPSL crown to her lsit of accomplishments, and the SeaLions (5-1-0) are one of the prime contenders for the title.
Tantillo has scored 10 goals in eight matches, including a two-game Northern California trek before the Pacific South Conference openers, and provided a foundation for a San Diego side that missed out on last year's WPSL final four after losing on penalties in the Western final to the Orange County Waves, who went on to the championship.
“She brings another level to the game, because she has played at that level,” said SeaLions coach Jen Nielsen-Lalor, who played in the Women's United Soccer Association, (WUSA) America's first professional women's league. “Of course, she's always the focal point of what our team is all about.”
Tantillo's SeaLions support network includes her older sister, Maddie, who played collegiately at Pepperdine and Point Loma Nazarene, UC Irvine standouts Judy Christopher and Sarah Devine, local-bred forward Nikki Petracca and San Diego-raised goalkeeper Kaycee Gunion.
The SeaLions open the Western final four, to be played at Cathedral Catholic High School in San Diego, on Saturday at 5 p.m. PT against Northwest Conference runner-up Issaquah Soccer Club (5-1-4), from suburban Seattle.
Pacific-North champion California Storm (5-2-3), from Sacramento, faces Big Sky-North Salt Lake United (6-0-2) in the 7:30 nightcap, and the winners meet Sunday at 4 p.m. for a berth in the July 28-29 league finals in Pensacola, Florida.
I talked to Tantillo as she prepared for this weekend's games about the SeaLions, their championship aspirations, her career and what's ahead:
SNN: How has this season gone for you and the San Diego SeaLions?
Rosie Tantillo: We've had a great season, and compared to last year, building chemistry came so much more quickly. When we go out on the field, we work hard for each other, have each other's back. It seems like we're a lot closer. We're out there for the same reason, all on the same page, and we want to do the same thing: win this year. Last year we weren't happy the way it ended.
Pretty much from last year's last game, we've been waiting for this a whole year. Now the time has come, and we're ready for the playoffs more than ever.
SNN: Last year the SeaLions reached the Western regional final and lost on penalties to the Orange County Waves, who went on to win the WPSL title.
Rosie Tantillo: The OC Waves, they had great players and it was definitely a challenge playing them. We tied them and beat them [in two regular-season meetings], but when it came down to it, the one game that did matter was the one that put them into the final four.
SNN: What do you remember from that?
Rosie Tantillo: It was just a long season. Saturday night's game [a 3-2 victory over the Bay Area Breeze in the Western semifinal] was really tough. That just wore us out. Then going back not even 24 hours later and playing an even harder team. They scored on an own goal, and we finally came back and scored and tied it, and then we're going to PKs.
The last 15 minutes of that game, my calves were cramping. When it comes down to PKs, you're supposed to take your best shooters. We were practicing two weeks prior for PKs, but in practice, there's no pressure. But when it comes down to it ... I put my shot over the goal. The only one who made the shot was my sister. Whether it was fatigue in the legs or pressure or whatever, I guess it wasn't our time to go through.
SNN: Is the feeling that now it is your time?
Rosie Tantillo: Oh, yes. The team that we have this year, I would definitely say it is a lot stronger.
Definitely, we have more depth on this team. I can't imagine for Coach Jen -- obviously, she chose her roster, but starting which players and bringing players off the bench? We have such a great bench. When someone comes off, a person goes in who is as good or even better than a starter.
We have such a great team, and we're all working together.
SNN: How does that chemistry manifest itself in the SeaLions' play?
Rosie Tantillo: Having chemistry with the girls, number one, is huge. Stepping on that field and allowing yourself to work hard for that person right by you, backing them up, making sure you've got their back. I think that's the one thing that has been really successful with all of us right now.
We're all on the same page. We're in sync right now.
Things are going our way, but a lot of that has to do with working hard in practice. The way we train is the way we play.
SNN: It was an odd season, in that there were only four teams in the Pacific South, so you only played six games -- plus the two friendlies against Pacific North teams just before the season began. That seemed to amplify the matchups with Beach FC.
Rosie Tantillo: Beach FC are an awesome team. They had great players as well. Even Ajax [America Women] -- Ajax had a great team. With Beach, when we played them at their home, we definitely dodged some bullets. Our goalkeeper came out big and kept us in the game, and in the second half we took over, and that's how we won. I think fitness had a lot to do with it -- we were a lot more fit than they were.
SNN: You expected to play Beach FC in your last regular-season game, with the winner going to the playoffs. Then Beach lost to Ajax the day before, and that clinched the Pacific-South title for the SeaLions. Were you disappointed because that showdown no longer meant anything or pleased because you were through to the postseason?
Rosie Tantillo: It was a great thing that Ajax beat them, because it put us through to the playoffs. The next day we played Beach, and mentally you already know you're going, that this game doesn't matter. We really didn't play that well [and Beach won].
It was tough to get back into the flow of things from that game. We also had a couple of injuries, so that two-week break [since the end of the regular season] actually helped us. We took [the loss] not really as a reality check, but that even though we made the playoffs, we can't just show up during the playoffs the way we just played this game. The way we had been playing is how we need to go back to playing.
I guess the game we lost was the right one.
SNN: The SeaLions are home for the Western regionals. How big is that for the team?
Rosie Tantillo: It's huge. We have such a great fan base right now, especially this year. I think it's going to be awesome for us, to have them behind us as kind of a 12th player. Making sure we're putting a show in for them and so forth.
SNN: If you and the California Storm win on Saturday, you'll meet Sunday for a spot in the national final four, July 28-29 in Pensacola, Florida. You played them in a nonleague game back in May and won, 3-1. Will that mean anything if you meet again?
Rosie Tantillo: I'm sure they're going to be a different team. That won their first game of the season. We had been preparing for the season -- we had some scrimmages under our belt -- and [the two games] that weekend were a great test to see where we fit. We were very content with how we played that weekend, with the heat [in Sacramento and Fresno], and I thought that was just the start of a great season for us. I'm sure it will be a different game if we go through and they go through.
SNN: You've scored 10 league goals to lead this team. Is that your role or a byproduct of what you're doing on the field?
Rosie Tantillo: I definitely plan on continuing to rack up some more goals in the playoffs. This is probably the most important game of our season, and I'm hoping to not only be a leader out there, but hopefully score a lot more goals this season.
SNN: You were a goal scorer when you got to USC in 2003, but by your junior year you were more of a provider, the chief assist player. Your time with Pali Blues, Buffalo Flash and FC Gold Pride showed you off as a more versatile player than just a goal scorer. How do you feel your game has broadened?
Rosie Tantillo: I think you definitely hit it. Experience definitely has played a big role. My parents came to a game a couple games into the season, and my mom made the comment, “You can tell you're a lot more experienced on the field.” I think that's something that has affected my game in a good way.
Coming into the season, I prepared myself differently than I normally have, focusing more on cardio, not really worrying about the technical side of the game. Usually, I've been a player where the technical part of my game was always my foundation. My fitness was mediocre, but I focused on it this offseason. I got so much stronger, shed some pounds -- Coach Jen the first couple of practices said, “What did you do?!?” Then when we started doing fitness, it was easier for me. I definitely enjoyed it.
I think I had to prepare a lot differently to be more effective, to be the player I really wanted to be.
SNN: How happy are you to play in your hometown?
Rosie Tantillo: It's a great feeling. Out of college, I played in L.A., off to Buffalo, up to San Francisco. Being back in San Diego and being able to play in front of my parents and friends is awesome. It's something I hope I can continue to do with the SeaLions and in the WPSL Elite pro league.
SNN: You also get to play with your older sister.
Rosie Tantillo: Gosh, it's funny. Maddie and I always get that question: Who's the better soccer player. I definitely have learned a lot from my sister, being able to play high school soccer with her, club soccer, now being able to play with SeaLions with her. Its different, because she's taught me so much when I was younger, and I learn from her. I worked really hard because I saw what she was accomplishing, and I wanted to do the same thing as her. It has helped me overcome a lot of obstacles that came across my career.
SNN: Your career has coincided with an eventful era in the women's game, with the WPS's rise and fall and the next steps being taken for a pro women's league. How do you see it?
Rosie Tantillo: As far as my career, playing for Gold Pride was truly the biggest honor and best experience I've ever come across. Playing with the best players and playing against the best players, and I think that helped me mature and become the player I am now. Being able to be coached by Albertin Montoya was a great experience. Even though I didn't play much, it was still an honor to make that team and be part of it.
Soccer is definitely something I love to do. It's always been part of my life.
If the SeaLions can go into the WPSL Elite pro league next year, and I'd be able to play for San Diego, that would be a complete dream come true. That would be awesome.
REGIONAL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE:
WHAT: 2012 WPSL Western Regional Playoffs
WHO: San Diego SeaLions, California Storm, Issaquah Soccer Club and Salt Lake United
WHEN: Semifinals will be held on Saturday, July 21
- Game 1: SeaLions v. Issaquah Soccer Club, 5:00 p.m.
- Game 2: Storm v. Salt Lake, 7:30 p.m.
Finals will be held on Sunday, July 22
- Game 1 winner v. Game 2 winner, 4:00 p.m.
WHERE: Cathedral Catholic High School's Manchester Stadium
5555 Del Mar Heights Rd.
San Diego, CA 92130
All Photography Credit: Aaron Jaffe