Turlock’s semi-professional soccer club Academica SC will have a new face leading their women’s squad this year, as James Burns was announced as their new head coach on March 7. Burns will be the second coach in club history in just their second season of existence and will have one month to prepare the squad for their May 7 USL W debut.
“I'm excited about the opportunity to join a club with a rich history in the Valley,” Burns said. “Competing in the USL W League is going to be a tremendous challenge for our second-year program, but I can promise you this: We're going to train hard, challenge the players every step of the way, and do our part to raise the standard for women's soccer in this part of the Valley.”
Burns will be succeeding Damon Solomon, who steps away from the club to spend more time with his family as his wife received a job promotion that requires much more of her time. Solomon explained that he is already busy as is, as he is a teacher in Atwater and will remain a coach for Academica’s junior academy, so letting go of at least one of his duties had to happen.
“I didn't really know my wife was getting a promotion, so a lot of things were happening, and I quickly realized, ‘Hey, I've got to help out more at home now. We’ve got two little kids and we need to make it work somehow,’” Solomon said. “We sat for a couple of weeks to think about how we can make it work, and it just wasn't, so it was tough on us.”
Solomon said that the one thing he will take away most from his time as Academica’s first-ever women’s coach are the relationships he built with the players.
“The relationship with the players is always the number one thing for me,” he said. “The competitiveness of these ladies is special to be around. You can tell just by looking at them and the fire in their eyes that they want to get better. I mean, you don’t play in the summer if you’re not trying to get to the next level, and that’s what Academica helps them do, which is awesome for Turlock and the area.”
In Burns, Academica will be getting a coach with an abundance of experience, which President Simon Bettencourt believes make the transition easier, especially as the competition ramps up in the USL W. Burns currently coaches two boys teams for the Manteca FC youth program and runs Firstouch Futbol, a personal training group. He is also a former assistant coach for the Sierra High girls soccer team. In addition to coaching, he has been a sports journalist for over 20 years, including having served as sports editor at Turlock Journal sister paper, The Manteca Bulletin.
"I want to thank the board of directors for the opportunity to guide the women's team,” Burns said. “They've created a platform for the region's top talent, and I hope that our efforts this season continue to strengthen that pipeline.”
Academica held tryouts for both their boys and girls teams last month. With the majority of the current roster having been constructed under Solomon, Burns will work alongside General Manager Michael Rocha to put the finishing touches for this year and seasons to come.
"My ultimate goal is to build a roster that will compete and showcase well against teams from larger markets and with longer ledgers,” Burns said. “I want our team to be a reflection of our communities -- hard working and talented, passionate and fiercely together. Our reward won't be wins alone, but the number of young girls who aspire to wear the gold and black."