Published Jun 24, 2022
Written By:  Shawn Medow
             ​West Region Contributor

Kiera Bocchino has scored so often that when she steps into the center circle to kick off matches, the referee jokes, “how many goals today, Kiera?

Dominance is becoming a staple of the San Diego Strikers in its second season in the WPSL. The Strikers have picked up where they left off in 2021 after a perfect 6-0 season en route to the So Cal Plymouth Division title. But this year is different. With the possibility of playoffs, the Strikers have more than the division title on their mind.


“Last season felt almost anti-climatic,” Cassie Callahan, Strikers’ captain and WPSL veteran, said. “We won that last game and we were like ‘OK that was nice’ but now we have that drive to make it all the way to the end.”


This season, the Strikers have come out to a 5-0-0 start. The competition has been fierce, but the Strikers have been stronger, outscoring opponents 14-2. In its most recent match, a 2-1 win over SoCal Union FC, its closest battle.


Cassie Callahan

After the Strikers went into halftime leading 2-0, SoCal Union started the second half at a blistering pace and forced the Strikers to play more direct than their usual possession-based style.


“Any time a team does something against us that challenges us it’s a good thing,” Bocchino said. “Our goal is to go to the end and our league is just a small part of that so we want the challenge, we embrace the challenge.”


Despite it being the second season under the Strikers’ name, the group of players has experience with each other as part of the San Diego WFC Sea Lions, which won the WPSL title in 2013 and were runners-up in 2016.

When the Sea Lions stopped play in 2019, many players moved over to the newly formed Strikers WPSL side. The carryover to the Strikers meant natural chemistry among the team, providing a big boost to confidence.


“Even if we’re matching up with a team with similar skill, I just feel like that chemistry is an added layer that really gives us the support to work for each other,” Bocchino said. “It just adds something that skill doesn’t necessarily give you.”


Kiera Bocchino


That level of bonding is special in the WPSL, where it’s more common to see turnover in a squad than the consistency that the Strikers have. It’s led to off-field friendships just as much as it’s led to on-field connections.


“We support each other. We want each other to succeed, we want each other to score, to do well, to pass,” Bocchino said. “If something goes wrong, we’re there to support each other and help each other and we all respect and listen to each other. I think in order to get that, creating bonds off the field is also important.”


Callahan was part of the Sea Lions’ 2013 title-winning team and wants another taste of the glory. For Bocchino, she wants to begin a legacy under the Strikers’ name. After last year’s division success and this year’s success so far, they feel confident about making a run and challenging for the title.


“I feel last year we would have had a good run at it,” Ray Taila, Strikers’ head coach, said. “I feel we are strong enough to make that a reality hopefully this year.”


Both Bocchino and Callahan will play big roles if success lies in the team’s future over the remainder of the summer.


“She’s just having a great year,” Taila said of Bocchino, who has five goals and three assists so far. “She’s finding those pockets to get in, grabbing some of those loose balls, finding the breakaway with her speed, it’s helping out.”


Bocchino and Callahan are both teachers in their everyday lives. They’re natural leaders. Callahan has the captain’s armband, a physical representation of her leadership.

The two veteran players help the young Strikers players who are being brought up through the team, just like they were when they played in the WPSL during their respective time at UC San Diego.

Much of the team’s success comes down to those bonds and connections they’ve made playing years together.


“Every time we win is a highlight. Being together, seeing each other smiling and succeeding and scoring and passing from all over the field,” Bocchino said. “We like to see each other succeeding.”