As he's sometimes wont to do, head coach Tom Durkin experiment with his starting XI against the Chicago Red Stars on Saturday night. Results were mixed at best, but Boston managed a 1-1 tie on the strength of a cool Stephanie McCaffrey finish.
After a back-and-forth first half, Lori Chalpuny struck first for Chicago in the 53'. Taryn Hemmings made a daring run deep into the box along the endline and Katie Schoepfer didn't notice Chalupny drifting loose, leaving her wide open in front of goal. Hemmings cut it back to Chalupny, who scored simple and easy.
Stephanie McCaffrey tied it up in the 62'. McCaffrey was lurking between Chicago center backs Abby Erceg and Samantha Johnson when the ball popped loose in great position for her run onto it. She split the center backs and finished with precision into the far corner of the net. McCaffrey continues to work at being both provider and finisher, paired up top with Kyah Simon but often dropping deeper into the midfield to join in setting up the attack.
For the rest of the game, though, Boston's offense didn't seem to have too many ideas. Often they were limited to lurking around the edges of the 18 and shooting from distance. Katie Schoepfer had a dangerous hard shot late in the first half that forced Chicago goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc to parry it wide, but other ranged attempts were distinctly nonthreatening. There were some good moments in the box that came from service off of corner kicks; a far post header required a goal-line clearance from Vanessa DiBernardo. But fullbacks Mollie Pathman and Maddy Evans weren't able to get forward that often while they dealt with Chicago's own flank play, which limited service from wide.
Midfield saw Amy Barczuk and Bia in a triangle behind Katie Schoepfer, which did manage to disrupt some of Chicago's attack and pushed much of the action out to the wings. Schoepfer did her best to provide some link-up play but too many turnovers kept Kyah Simon isolated at the tip of the spear.
Durkin also made three subs: Rafinha for McCaffrey, Lauren Lazo for Bia, and Morgan Marlborough for Barczuk. All three were an attempt to generate some attack and Boston did manage to press a little more in the last five minutes or so of the game. Interestingly, Durkin put Lazo in at midfield and kept Evans at right back. Lazo has experience as a goalscorer from her days at Princeton and her fresh legs were better used in midfield, pressing hard for the last ten minutes along with Marlborough, Simon, and Kristie Mewis.
But ultimately, all the disparate attacking elements on the field weren't able to come together. There was some good combination play; as the Breakers have shown, they're certainly capable of moving the ball around very quickly. But there wasn't quite enough of it in this game. Either ball movement ran into a wall, or long balls looking to find forwards on the run resulted in a turnover.
The good news is that the defense kept the scoreline low. Several times a Chicago ball wandered through the box, but Kassey Kallman or Julie King would be there for a clearance while other defenders kept their targets covered. Alyssa Naeher took care of the rest, cleaning up spills and generally keeping things tidy.
It wasn't a bad performance, but it is one that needs tweaks before Boston faces Chicago again at home, particularly amongst the midfield triangle. McCaffrey and Simon are tempting as a strike pair that can interchange freely into one as the lone striker and the other as the playmaker. Perhaps a little more time together will generate a you-set-em-up, I-knock-em-down partnership.
It's one thing if the team is simply bad, but it's not. This team is completely capable of winning against any other team in the league. It all seems to be lying tantalizingly just out of reach, which is perhaps most frustrating about Boston's struggles this season.
Still, this point matters, both in terms of not going out last in the league and boosting the team out of their losing streak. Three points against Chicago at home are entirely possible, especially since the team has often emphasized that they are most comfortable on their home turf.
Boston will face Chicago again on Wednesday, July 22.