Despite earning a first-half lead--and battling with the league-leading Seattle Reign for a full 90 minutes--the Breakers spoiled a road upset, dropping a heartbreaking decision, 3-2.
In the opening moments of Sunday's matchup between the top-ranked Spirit and bottom-ranked Breakers, Seattle continually challenged battle-tested goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher. Midfielder Kim Little and forward Nahomi Kawasumi both found space to drive into the box and contribute to a flurry of opportunities, though on each occasion, Naeher proved up to the task.
After making four saves in the first 16 minutes of play, Naeher watched as defender/midfielder Courtney Jones delivered from deep, surprising Seattle with a pivotal first goal. From 30 yards out, Jones stung a shot inside Hope Solo's near post, catching the U.S. International goalkeeper off guard with a strike that dipped ever-so-slightly on its way to goal.
For the ensuing 26 minutes, momentum swung back to Seattle, who continued to put pressure on Naeher's back line. But once again, the Breakers' defensive unit stood tall, preserving the 1-0 lead late in the second frame.
In the 45th minute, the Breakers exposed Seattle's attack-heavy mentality, as forward Lianne Sanderson tore down the right side, entered the box, and stung a shot over Solo--and off the crossbar. In a match where Seattle appeared destined to blow out the visiting Breakers, Tom Durkin's side developed the better opportunities, entering the break with a 1-0 lead.
In the second frame, Seattle continued to push forward, again putting pressure on the Breakers' surprisingly sturdy back line. Kawasumi and Little led the charge from minute 46 forward; in the 56th minute, the Japanese Intentional finally entered the scoresheet, bringing her squad level with an early goal. Off a deep cross from Stephanie Cox, Kawasumi rifled a shot past Naeher and into the far post, emphatically breaking the hearts of Breakers supporters.
For Seattle, though, Kawasumi's equalizer only served as the beginning of a continued offensive onslaught. In the 76th minute, pressure from Kim Little forced an own goal, when Seattle's star midfielder chased a diagonal pass into the box. Bianca D'Agostino attempted to clear the pass, though her touch found the back of the net, beating Naeher late in the second half.
Less than a minute later, substitute Katie Schoepfer forced her way into the box and buried a shot inside the far post, taking advantage of a casual Seattle back line. With less than 12 minutes left in regulation, the Breakers petitioned for a result against the premier club in women's soccer.
Unfortunately for Durkin's side, Seattle refused to quit, turning around and applying pressure once again. In the 83rd minute, Jess Fishlock forced a sloppy turnover in the back, nutmegged Cat Whitehill, and found Kawasumi on the far post one v one with a charging Naeher. Kawasumi slotted a patient finish past Boston's keeper for her second goal, the eventual game-winner.
In desperate search of an equalizer, Sanderson allowed her frustration to put the final mark on the match, when the English International hacked down Fishlock from behind. Sanderson immediately received a yellow card--her second of the match--forcing the Breakers to finish their inspired performance with 10 players on the field.
Eighty-two minutes into Sunday's east-west matchup, the Breakers appeared moments from earning a point on the road, though Seattle once again silenced their opponent with late-game heroics. Sydney Leroux's newest club has yet to lose in 2014; the Breakers will have to wait until next season to seek revenge.
The Breakers will visit expansion-side Houston with a chance to move up the table. Match kicks off at 7:00 PM from BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, Texas.