TSF FC Feature Interview with Academy Director Lee Bakewell
From New Jersey to California, the growth of the NPSL is hardly going unnoticed as more and more teams join this competitive U.S. Soccer 4th tier men’s soccer league — the NPSL is very close to reaching its goal of 100 teams in 100 communities.
Related Article: Kitsap SC’s Liviu Bird on NPSL Soccer
NPSL Soccer News: With the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) growing across all America, SoccerToday interviews the man behind one of the latest NPSL expansion clubs joining the league for the upcoming 2017 campaign.
TSF FC is led by Director of Coaching and Head Coach Luis Mendoza and Academy Director Lee Bakewell.
Mendoza, who holds a USSF “A” license and joined TSF Academy in 2010. He has spent time as a scout for U.S. Soccer and as the Technical Director for the Real Madrid Select Program. Mendoza brings a wealth of experience and a professional playing background in his home country of Venezuela, where he represented the men’s national team.
Bakewell, who also holds a USSF “A” license, joined TSF Academy in 2007 currently serves as Academy Director. He played at the collegiate level in England prior to leaving for the United States. He currently coaches the 2006 Boys and the U12 team in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy.
TSF Academy teams have enjoyed national and state success with five national titles and ten NJ state championships. The club competes in varying competitive events, from local leagues to college showcase tournaments and national leagues. Six teams from TSF participated in the prestigious Dr Pepper Dallas Cup in 2016.
SoccerToday interviewed Bakewell on the club’s inaugural season in the NPSL and the decision to join the growing league.
Diane Scavuzzo: Why did TSF Academy join the NPSL?
Lee Bakewell: The goal at TSF Academy is to inspire our youth players and provide them with a clear developmental pathway to the highest level. NPSL shares our ideology and philosophy and will provide our players with those opportunities.
Diane Scavuzzo: What is your position with the club?
Lee Bakewell: Academy Director.
Diane Scavuzzo: Is this a new team?
Lee Bakewell: TSF Academy has had a U23 men’s team throughout our history, but this will be our first experience at the senior level. We will be looking to use a core group of players from our U23 men’s team.
Diane Scavuzzo: When did you become in involved in soccer?
Lee Bakewell: I’ve been involved in soccer from when I can first remember. Playing from the age of 6 and being an avid fan of the game all my life.
Diane Scavuzzo: What is your soccer coaching background?
Lee Bakewell: I coached in the community programs at Walsall F.C. — my local professional club which is currently in League One in England — as I gained experience and my F.A. Licenses. After college, I took a coaching role with MLS Soccer Camps, which fueled my passion and desire to be involved in coaching soccer in the USA. After 3 years with MLS Camps I moved to the East Coast in a coaching role with TSF Academy in 2007.
Diane Scavuzzo: When did you first start playing soccer as a young boy?
Lee Bakewell: I played from the age of 6, predominately with local youth teams and prior to college at Coventry University, I played for an amateur club, Bloxwich Town F.C. U18 team.
I played primarily as a central defender and/or left back. Unfortunately, I never reached the professional level.
Diane Scavuzzo: How has soccer changed since you became involved?
Lee Bakewell: The game has obviously evolved significantly since the 90’s and even more so over the past decade since I became involved in coaching.
The focus is now on the technical abilities of players and the complexities in the tactical side of the game.
I have also been fortunate enough to witness the growth of Major League Soccer and the grassroots level of the game in the U.S. since that league was founded.
Diane Scavuzzo: What is right with soccer in this country?
Lee Bakewell: The game in this country is moving in a positive direction. There are a lot of passionate and knowledgeable people involved at a variety of levels and the youth players coming through will surely shape the future of the game in this country for years to come.
I think all the different organizational bodies should probably come together to create a clearer grassroots structure and govern the development of the game a little clearer.
Diane Scavuzzo: How important is it for the NPSL to work with youth soccer clubs?
Lee Bakewell: I think it’s very important that the NPSL has links with the youth level. Ultimately, this is the conduit for the players coming into the league and onto the professional level.
Diane Scavuzzo: How do you plan on promoting your NPSL team to drive fans into seats?
Lee Bakewell: We are looking to inspire our younger players within the club to get them involved and hopefully aspire them to play at this level in the future. We will start there and work with the local community and look forward to their support in making this team a success both on and off the field.
Diane Scavuzzo: What is your greatest challenge as an NPSL team?
Lee Bakewell: I honestly feel that we are well equipped and prepared for the NPSL. We are a full-time organization with dedicated staff eager to make this a huge success for our community and club.
Diane Scavuzzo: NPSL has teams in over 80 markets across the country — is your area in need of more competition or are you concerned about future expansion?
Lee Bakewell: Competition is healthy, it helps create rivalries and develops a genuine excitement for those games. I have no doubt the league and its board will make the right decisions in any expansion moving forward to benefit the clubs and membership.
Diane Scavuzzo: Do you feel that NPSL is doing a good job with the challenges of amateur/pro men’s soccer?
Lee Bakewell: There are many challenges out there, but from speaking with the chairman, board and member clubs at the AGM recently, I am very impressed with what the league is aiming to achieve.
Lee Bakewell: I think players at this level have the genuine ambition, passion and drive to make it to the next level and impress when they step foot on the field. For those reasons alone makes the games exciting to watch and we can’t wait to be a part of that excitement.
Diane Scavuzzo: What are your goals for next season and beyond 2017? What influences you?
Lee Bakewell: We want a coaching and playing staff that is very competitive and ambitious and we want to challenge them at the very highest levels. We will ultimately take each game on its own merits and see where it takes us.
Diane Scavuzzo: What is the one moment/experience/decision you would like to turn back the clock and change?
Lee Bakewell: For me personally … it would be the Super Y-League National Finals in 2011 when I was coaching our U15 Girls team. We reached the final and were 3-1 down at half-time. We managed to bring it back to 3-3 but eventually lost 4-3 in extra time. It was such an emotional roller coaster. I’m thinking I could have possible made some decisions to help the players get across the line, although I can’t quite remember the game too much apart from the goal we conceded in extra time!
Diane Scavuzzo: If you could pick any super power, what would it be and why?
Lee Bakewell: It’s in interesting question, but would like to have the ability to read people’s minds. Would be interesting to know exactly what people think from time to time.
Diane Scavuzzo: Who is your favorite soccer team or player? Who do you root for behind closed doors?
Lee Bakewell: I’m a lifelong Wolverhampton Wanderers supporter, from being a season ticket holder from a very early young age with my dad and brother. My favorite player right now would probably be David Silva. He makes the game look so effortless without the real focus and attention that is normally demanded by some of the more noticeable stars.
My favorite players of all time would be Steve Bull from my days watching Wolves play and Paul Gascoigne in his prime playing for Tottenham and England.