In the month of June, Sky Blue FC had its way with the Breakers, earning six points in two matches behind eight total goals. In both games, the Breakers played without forward Sydney Leroux, a vacancy that did little to help the team's finishing woes. On Sunday, Leroux's presence made all the difference; the U.S. International collected two goals in a gutsy performance, guiding the Breakers past top-ranked Sky Blue FC, 3-2.
From the opening moments, Leroux seemed poised to cause early trouble, using creative footwork to earn a one-on-one with Sky Blue goalkeeper Brittany Cameron. Leroux's 2nd minute effort resulted in a routine save, yet her ability to create a goal-scoring opportunity immediately set the tone in Sunday's match.
For the next 25 minutes, the Breakers held possession, stifling Sky Blue's often-overpowering attack. Newcomer Jazmyne Avant introduced herself in the 29th minute, following a deep right-side run with a flawless cross into the penalty area. Joanna Lohman's first attempt caught nothing but air, leaving the well-paced pass at the foot of Leroux, who buried the assist on a near-open goal.
Two minutes later, Sky Blue stole the spotlight, silencing the crowd with a 31st minute equalizer. Breakers goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher found herself in "no-man's land" after watching a brilliant through ball arrive at the foot of Sky Blue forward Sophie Schmidt, who took a touch before stinging a shot past a frozen Naeher. Sky Blue's immediate response put pressure back on the Breakers, who saw their winless streak extended to five games on Wednesday.
For a Boston team that promised to come out firing, however, a momentary lapse did little to shake momentum. In the 35th minute, a corner from Heather O'Reilly found the head of a rising Mariah Nogueira, who's shot found the back of the net after an unsuccessful Sky Blue clearance.
With a 2-1 lead and an upset in the making, the Breakers seemed content with a second-half holdout; Leroux had other plans. In the 41st minute, the standout forward strode into a 25-yard strike that beat a full-stretched Cameron, giving the Breakers a two-goal cushion at the break. For the first time in over a month, Leroux's crew found the finishing touch they so desperately needed.
In the second half, a subdued Breakers attack led to a quiet introduction, marked by prolonged possession and few opportunities. Sky Blue finally broke out in the 58th minute, when a sprawling save by Naeher landed on the foot of Sky Blue's Monica Ocampo. The forward easily finished the rebound to cut Boston's lead in half.
For the remaining 30 minutes, the Breakers continued to maintain possession, refusing to truly fall into a defensive formation. A 76th minute close-range attempt from Sky Blue defender CoCo Goodson forced Naeher to make a reaction save low and to her right, momentarily keeping momentum on Boston's side. Twelve minutes later, Naeher again bailed out her teammates, denying Ocampo on a point-blank shot from the left side of the box.
In the waning moments, Sky Blue's frustration became increasingly apparent, culminating in a red card to Schmidt, who struck Avant with the ball after disagreeing with an injury-time decision by the official. Schmidt's ejection seemed telling: Avant, who joined the Breakers on Saturday, continually worked to deny Sky Blue's prolific attack, turning out a memorable first match in white and blue.
In order to knock off the league's most consistent side, the Breakers needed increased defensive chemistry and better results from goal-scoring opportunities. On Sunday, the team achieved both, overshadowing a difficult month with a well-earned victory.
With inconsistency plaguing the Breakers back four all season, captain Cat Whitehill jumped to praise her team's performance - and the contributions of newly acquired defender Jazmyne Avant. "I really think Jazmyne settled in right away. You could tell Kia [McNeil] and Jazmyne had good chemistry tonight. We came out with a focus, and you could tell people were ready to play."
Avant provided comments of her own, humbly speaking of her new role and ability to move up the right side. "I talked to [head coach] Lisa Cole about what this team needed, and she thought my speed could provide a good addition. I love defending, and I love tracking back, but one of my favorite things to do is use my speed to join the attack."
Also faced with the challenges of an inconsistent defensive unit, goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher believed her team benefited from a cohesive 90 minutes of defending. "I thought our defense played well the whole game. We stayed connected and played more like a unit today. I also think our players are getting more comfortable, now that we're midway through the season."
Cole concluded by echoing her goalkeeper's thoughts, immediately commenting on the Breakers' ability to finish strong. "We've been saying since the beginning that if we play well for 90 minutes we're one of the best teams in this league. Today, we didn't give up and we didn't get frustrated. We still gave up two goals, but here's the difference: it didn't throw us off our game."
The Breakers will visit Starfire Stadium in Seattle, Wash., for a rematch with Seattle Reign. Match will kick off at 10:00 pm ET.