After spoiling a pair of leads at home, against Washington, in early June, the Breakers entered Wednesday's match looking to draw even with the visiting Spirit. This time around, the Breakers used a pair of first-half goals--and a brilliant defensive performance--to shut down Jodie Taylor and Washington's prolific offense, posting a much-needed 2-0 victory.
In the early goings at Harvard Stadium, the Breakers controlled the attacking tempo, despite starting without midfielders Lianne Sanderson, Kristie Mewis and Heather O'Reilly, who left the team to fulfill international duties. In their place, Head Coach Tom Durkin instilled faith in Maddy Evans, Jazmine Reeves and Nkem Ezurike; right away, his trust paid off.
For the majority of the first half, Reeves worked to connect with Ezurike, finding space on the right flank to send dangerous balls into the box. A few tempting crosses, a deep shot from Evans and a handful of set-piece opportunities built promise, though the Breakers struggled to develop a clear-cut opportunity.
In the 42nd minute, that changed. After jumping a lazy Washington pass inside the box, Reeves took a soft touch onto the foot of fellow rookie Mollie Pathman, who darted into the danger area. After weaving her way through three Spirit defenders, Pathman laid off a perfect pass to veteran forward Katie Schoepfer, who ripped a one-time shot past 'keeper Chantel Jones on the near post. Jones threw herself in the direction of the shot, though her late reaction only highlighted the intensity of Schoepfer's finish.
Just one minute later, Reeves set up a second tally. Off a bad giveaway on Washington's half of the field, the Breakers claimed possession and seamlessly moved the ball toward goal. With space on the right side, Reeves curled a flawless ball onto the far post, perfectly dropping her cross onto Ezurike's foot. The Canadian International attempted to finish the pass, only to have her shot saved by Jones. Breakers midfielder Courtney Jones, however, pounced on the ensuing rebound and tucked away her shot for a 2-0 lead.
Just before the half, and nearly a full minute into extra time, Reeves nearly claimed a goal of her own. A soft through ball over the top from Nikki Washington led Reeves into space, where the forward ripped a shot past Jones and just wide of the target. With all the momentum behind them, the Breakers entered the break with a two-goal advantage.
To start the second frame, Washington inserted goal-scoring phenom Jodie Taylor, who scored in three consecutive showings entering Wednesday's match in Boston; two of those goals, Washington's second and third, helped put away the Breakers on June 1.
Taylor immediately added an attacking spark to her struggling club, threatening Boston's back line twice in the first 10 minutes. On both occasions, Taylor found space behind Boston's back line and attempted to chip Boston goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, though she failed to hold her run both times--resulting in a pair of offside calls. As the half grew older, Taylor continued to pester Boston's back four, which included traditional midfielder Nikki Washington.
Taylor, however, never found a way through the Breakers defense, failing to record a promising shot on goal. Her pestering served as nothing more than a defensive test, one that Tom Durkin's crew passed with poise.
By the end of the second half, the Breakers had completely recovered momentum, and simply worked to hold possession until the final whistle. An impressive night on the attack--17 shots, eight corners, two goals--and a particularly strong night in the back--just four shots conceded--helped the Breakers claim their third win of the season, a 2-0 dominant victory over the visiting Spirit.
Although Washington entered Wednesday's match without their own international stars, namely Crystal Dunn, the Breakers performance raises new questions about Durkin's roster. Following a 4-1 rout of Portland, a match that started without several of Durkin's key players, we called for the return of his Reeves-Ezurike pairing. Instead, Durkin turned to his tried-and-true leaders--and proceeded to drop his next two matches. On Wednesday, with Reeves, Ezurike and crafty midfielder Evans all on the pitch, the offense held possession, created opportunities, and finished opportunities, all while holding onto a crucial lead.
With Durkin's attacking trio--and a new-look defender in Nikki Washington--the Breakers have seemingly found a mid-season rhythm. Now, the question remains: will Durkin continue to instill faith in his young players?
After a weekend of rest, the Breakers will welcome top-ranked Seattle to Harvard Stadium. Match kicks off at 7:00 PM on Thursday, June 19.