Houston Dash defender Janine van Wyk feels her second season in the National Women’s Soccer League is a success so far, despite middling results on the pitch, and is enjoying her more senior role.
Van Wyk, who is South Africa’s most capped player — male or female — and the captain of the national team, joined the Dash in 2017 after being recruited by former coach Randy Waldrum.
This season, she finds herself surrounded by familiar faces, especially with former South Africa coach Vera Pauw appointed the new boss at BVVA Compass Stadium.
“The first season is always the hardest, coming into the unknown, not knowing what your surroundings are and the environment you’ll be in,” Van Wyk tells KweséESPN.
“This time round I think the pressure is a little bit off, the teammates that I have been playing with [last year] already recognise my strengths and my abilities on the field, so I’ve settled in really well.
“Now I’m just guiding the young ones, the rookies that have come in and are feeling the same as when I first came in. It has been a great journey for me so far at the Dash.”
Van Wyk is pleased to be teaming up with Pauw again, a coach who she sees as a mentor and who led the SA team at the Olympics in Rio in 2016.
But while Van Wyk is used to the Dutchwoman’s style of coaching, the rest of the players seem to be adjusting as they go, with the more technical European style of play contrasting with American physicality.
“Vera is still one of the best coaches I have worked with in my career and when I heard she was going to be coach of the Houston Dash I was so excited because I know what she is capable of as a coach,” the 31-year-old says.
“I think the players are still trying to get used to adjust to her style and method of coaching. Obviously it is very much a European style and most of these players having been playing the American style of football, where it is all about running at 100 miles an hour, working out in the gym, lifting weights.
“Even though we have had a slow start to our season, we will catch up soon once the players have bought into her plan. By mid-season we will show what we are capable of as a team.”
The Dash are in the bottom half of the standings, but with only nine teams in the league and the top four reaching the play-offs, Van Wyk’s hopes of reaching the knock-outs are not unrealistic.
“We have so many quality players on paper, it is just to work together and try and accomplish what we are here for, to reach the play-offs,” she says.
“It is a really tough task because all of the teams are of such high quality, there are no easy games. It takes a lot for us as players to put our minds to it and work towards it as a common goal.”
Van Wyk has also been joined at the Dash by midfielders Thembi Kgatlana and Linda Motlhalo, two of the brightest young stars in the South African set-up.
Van Wyk, who owns her own youth football club in South Africa, has acted as a mother figure to the rookies, both in their early 20s, who she says must still settle into the league.
“They are two great players, humble players, always willing to work hard for whatever they want and the goals they have set up for themselves,” she says.
“They have the ability to show what the quality of South African football is all about.
“It is hard for me to show that quality because defenders are there to do a job, make those tackles and defend hard. It is the skillful players who score the goals that really make a name for themselves.”