2014 TBM Player Awards
Player of the Year: Alyssa Naeher, Goalkeeper
Alyssa Naeher has officially arrived. The 2014 NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year started all 24 matches last season--meaning she stayed healthy throughout the team's campaign--and blew out the competition with a league-leading 106 saves (Erin McLeod trailed with 83). For those counting, that's nearly four-and-a-half saves per 90 minutes. Her efforts helped earn a spot on the USWNT roster on August 20, all the while receiving abundant praise from Head Coach Jill Ellis. From this point forward, Naeher should at least serve as the Yanks number two goalkeeper.
Golden Boot: Heather O'Reilly, Midfielder
O'Reilly, Durkin's faithful do-it-all midfielder, quietly turned in a stellar 2014 campaign. Even though the long-time Breaker shuffled around the Starting XI, from midfielder to defender to striker, she managed to tally nine goals and five assists in 22 appearances, good enough for a fifth-place tie on the NWSL table. With more consistent running ‘mates, O'Reilly would have likely challenged Jessica McDonald, Jodie Taylor and Amy Rodriguez for a top-four finish.
Model of Consistency: Jazmine Reeves, Forward
In 2014, the Breakers rarely modeled consistency. But during each of her 13 starts, rookie Jazmine Reeves delivered the speed and play-making ability that led GM Lee Billiard to draft her back in January, providing a desperately-needed attacking boost alongside Katie Schoepfer. Seven goals later, the Breakers have likely uncovered their striker of the future.
Unsung Heroine: Rachel Wood, Defender
After surrendering 53 goals in 2014, the Breakers back line seems ill-suited to earn an award. But Rachel Wood, who joined the team following an impressive stint with the Breakers Reserve Squad, played a crucial role in the team's strong finish. Consistent, intelligent play down the stretch helped the Breakers tidy up an abysmal defense, surrendering just three goals in their final three matches (throughout the season, the team allowed 2.2 goals per game).
2014 Season Recap
After finishing second-to-last on the NWSL table, conceding nine more goals than any team in the history of the league, and failing to make the playoffs for the second consecutive season, the Breakers have very little to hang their hats on. Fortunately, we're in the business of optimism, which means we gathered a few bright spots following an otherwise disappointing season.
Tom Durkin's perplexing back line, which regularly welcomed a new cast of players, opened the door for Alyssa Naeher to shine brilliantly. And shine she did. From last-gasp penalty-kick saves to exceptional leadership between the pipes, Naeher proved that 2014 could have gone much, much worse. She even earned a Tim Howard-like hashtag that discussed "things Alyssa Naeher could save." The Penn State alum must continue to close in on Hope Solo to earn minutes during next summer's World Cup, though she deserves to join the conversation.
On the attacking side of the ball, Durkin can celebrate at least one successful draft pick: forward Jazmine Reeves. The Virgina Tech standout pestered back lines in 2014, scoring seven goals while proving her worth as a tried-and-true striker. Her ability to peel off defenders, find space down the flank and make runs into goal-scoring positions make Reeves a week-in, week-out threat, one that Durkin will likely use on a more consistent basis next season. Fellow rookie Nkem Ezurike, who showcased more of a centre-forward makeup, also showed moments of brilliance, using her physical frame to muscle past defenders and find the net. The future looks promising.
In 2014, Durkin endured a shaky coaching debut. A late push kept the Breakers from a last-place finish, though the team played like the worst team in soccer for the majority of the season. Why?
The struggle likely began with Durkin's roster moves. The first-year coach began by acquiring Courtney Jones, Lisa De Vanna, Kaylyn Kyle and Melissa Ortiz (positive). He then proceeded to trade the latter three players, the first two of whom warranted starting positions, for role players (negative). He released Jazmyne Avant, one of the team's elite defenders in 2013, after a mildly impressive campaign, and shifted two of his superstars--Kristie Mewis and Heather O'Reilly--from position to position (negative).
The result: a team with no identity, no continuity, and no on-field relationships. For most of the season, the back line suffered from communication breakdowns, sloppy defending and unfamiliar schemes, and the players justifiably failed to make proper adaptations. Fifty-three goals allowed and a -16 goal differential should tell the story; if not, take this summary into account: along the back line, Cat Whitehill started all 24 matches and Julie King started 17. Avant and Bianca Sierra served as Durkin's third and fourth defenders with 18 starts between them, though Sierra didn't join the team until June 18 and Avant was cut on July 24.
This back line never knew consistency, and they deserve more in 2015.
So, what's next for Durkin and the downtrodden Breakers? For starters, GM Lee Billiard must decide the fate of his head coach. While no comments have hinted at his impending departure, they probably should have; it seems overly optimistic to assume that Boston's first-year skipper can right the ship after a disastrous season. The way Durkin handled his roster from match one to match 24 left much to be desired, and a six-win season highlights that truth. If the Breakers want to win, they simply cannot play roster limbo for another season.
If Durkin does stay, he must mend many, many fences, and indirectly answer several key questions. Why did the team fail to pull the potential out of Kaylyn Kyle and Lisa De Vanna, players with proven track records? Why did Lianne Sanderson continually fail to get involved in the attack, despite coming off a five-goal, seven-assist campaign, and despite starring for the English National Team in 2014?
Regardless of who stands on the sideline in 2015, look for Reeves, Ezurike and fellow rook' Mollie Pathman to immediately take the reins of the attack, under the leadership of forward Katie Schoepfer. On the other side of the ball, expect the Breakers to target a center back, wide defender and holding midfielder in the draft or via trade; the back four should look vastly different next season, as a rebuilt back four will work wonders for a team with considerable potential.
Though we believe the Breakers need more than a pair of defenders to succeed, the future looks surprisingly bright. Riding an attack led by Heather O'Reilly, Kristie Mewis, Lianne Sanderson and Jazmine Reeves, and with a revamped back four anchored by Cat Whitehill and Rachel Wood, the Breakers have room to grow. For now, we must sit back, relax, and watch as the rebuilding process begins.
Agree with our analysis? Think we missed the mark with our player awards? Continue the conversation by dropping us a note below.