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Why Aaran Lines vacated his position as Flash head coach

In sports, head coaching jobs are usually given and taken away, rarely are they walked away from.

But Tuesday, the Western New York Flash announced that coach Aaran Lines had stepped down after seven seasons and three championships, and the National Women's Soccer League club was looking for the second head coach in its history.

After winning three titles in three different leagues (W-League, WPS and WPSL-Elite) in three straight seasons, the Flash's decline finally began once they seized the 2013 NWSL Shield (regular-season title).

During his run as coach, Lines directed Alex Morgan, Abby Wambach (foreground), Marta and Christine Sinclair, among other international women's soccer stars. (via the Flash)

During his run as coach, Lines directed Alex Morgan, Abby Wambach (foreground), Marta and Christine Sinclair, among other international women's soccer stars. (via the Flash)

Over the next two years, Abby Wambach's decision to sit out a league season to prepare for the 2015 World Cup (more from The Equalizer on this), Carli Lloyd's post-trade anger toward Lines and two playoff-less campaigns in Western New York -- it was fair to wonder why the former New Zealand international vacated his position.

In a conversation late Tuesday morning, Lines squashed any negative rumors by reinforcing that the decision was made on his own accord, pointing to his overarching responsibilities within the Flash organization and to a commitment to his family.

"I can't commit the time required to be successful at the NWSL level," he responded when asked why he stepped down. "The Flash, Sahlen Sports Park and the Flash Academy are all growing, and Alex [Sahlen, his wife] and I oversee all three entities. On top of that, I have a family now."

The Flash's only head coach admitted he'd been over-extended for some time -- since the birth of his first child, Max, 18 months ago -- and road trips that accounted for "50 or 60 days last year put things into perspective when bringing up a son."

The Flash have practiced at Sahlen Sports Park in Buffalo since 2009. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News file photo)

The Flash have practiced at Sahlen Sports Park in Buffalo since 2009. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News file photo)

Although the specific role has yet to be determined, Lines will remain involved with the NWSL side and play an integral role in the hiring of his successor. After spending four years as the team's general manager, Lines ceded that role in August when WNY hired Rich Randall, previously the president of now-defunct Rochester Lancers of the Major Arena Soccer League.

Considering the direction that Randall wants to take the Flash's NWSL team -- The Equalizer reports that he plans to move the front office from Elma to Rochester and foresees the club playing in the Flower City indefinitely (there was uncertainty given the expiring Sahlen Stadium lease in 2016) -- Lines' new focus should be a boon for youth soccer players in the Buffalo metro.

Clarence High School's Riley Bowers (left), also a member of the Flash Academy, scraps for a loose ball against Lancaster in 2015. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News file photo)

Clarence High School's Riley Bowers (left), also a member of the Flash Academy, scraps for a loose ball against Lancaster in 2015. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News file photo)

More of his energy will go toward furthering the Flash Academy, for whom he serves as director of soccer operations and head coach of the U-13 girls team.

"I'm incredibly proud of where the academy is at," Lines said. "I remember when it started [with a discussion] around a coffee table."

Now boasting 16 youth teams (girls under-9 through under-18, boys U-9 through U-12), high-level Division I commits like Maddie Pezzino (Florida State) and Riley Bowers (Ohio State), and a growing coaching staff, training methodology and academy-wide style of play, the Flash Academy has even bigger plans ahead: an application to join the Elite Clubs National League (ECNL).

For the 2015-16 season, the ECNL boasts 79 member clubs from across the United States that are broken into divisions geographically and separated by age groups (U14 through U18). An ECNL Champions League exists, too. Like the Empire Revolution Development Academy, student-athletes usually must choose between high school and ECNL soccer, but that's a conversation for a different day.

Presently, no other girls soccer academy in Western New York is part of the ECNL, and acceptance as a member would give the Flash youth system a substantial advantage over a growing number of local academies.

Grand Island's Madisyn Pezzino (right) is one of the best players to attend the Flash Academy. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News file photo)

Grand Island's Madisyn Pezzino (right) is one of the best players to attend the Flash Academy. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News file photo)

"We want an academy player like Maddie to be able to come back after college and want to wear the jersey of the pro team," Lines explained.

Along with fellow academy directors Gary Bruce and Daniel Clitnovici, Lines expects to learn whether the Flash Academy has been admitted into the ECNL in either February or March 2016. Should the academy be accepted, Western New York would be more likely to churn out more top-class youth players like Pezzino and Bowers.

While Lines hasn't shut the door on future professional coaching opportunities, he's proud of his tenure in charge of the Flash.

"Not many coaches earn the right to step down on their own terms," he said. "I'm blessed, as well as thankful to the organization for believing in me, and I've been able to reward them."

Email Ben Tsujimoto at btsujimoto@buffnews.com

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