On an absolutely gorgeous summer night in Boston, in front of a sold-out crowd, the Boston Breakers hit the brakes on their losing streak, dropped into high gear, and took it to the Washington Spirit to claim a 2-1 win in their final home game of the season.
If Boston's last 5-2 loss in Portland was weighing on their minds, they certainly didn't play like it. They came out much stronger in the first half, scoring first in the 12' off a corner kick from Kristie Mewis that found Julie King and her ample vertical in the box for a well-placed header.
The Spirit pushed forward, but Boston took the pushing and gave it right back. Kassey Kallman and Julie King both had good steps that broke up attacking play and restarted Boston's forward momentum while Stephanie McCaffrey was everyone on the field, constantly working the flanks and looking for service. McCaffrey was backed up by Kyah Simon, playing deeper in an attacking mid role.
It was Simon who helped orchestrate the second goal in the 18', taking bunches of space in the middle, finding McCaffrey on the right, who sent in a dangerous cross where Simon was waiting.
Simon was in good humor after the game about essentially poaching the goal. "Steph [McCaffrey] was open out wide and I played the ball into her and she did really well to actually beat her player and make something of quite a small opportunity, and it just so happened to be in a dangerous area, and when you feed a ball in there between the defenders and the goal anything can happen. It came off one of their players and then I was just there to I guess pick up the scraps and make sure it went in."
Boston spent the rest of the half doing a better job at harassing Washington's midfield than they did in Portland and went into halftime at 2-0.
Washington turned up the pressure in the second half, netting an early goal in the 49'. An absolutely gobsmacking sequence in front of goal found Alyssa Naeher making save after point blank save, only to have Diana Matheson ultimately bury it. "It kind of felt a little bit like a pinball game in there that time," said Naeher, who surely could earn player of the week consideration from that performance alone despite the goal.
Naeher went on to make a series of gargantuan stops for the rest of the second half, from quick reaction saves, to dives on low, hard shots, to catches that looked easy thanks to good positioning.
Both teams made a series of second-half substitutions, Washington in an effort to pour on more pressure, Boston in an attempt to perhaps find an insurance goal and then close out the game strong. Nkem Ezurike especially worked hard after coming on in the 63', which perhaps resulted in a few tempers flaring and a dustup in the midfield with Angela Salem that resulted in a 79' yellow card. Ezurike endured quite a bit of physical punishment for the rest of the game, but was sanguine about it afterwards.
"It's just part of the game," she said. "Everyone's trying to play hard. It's the last minute of the game. Still a close game, so we're putting everything out there and things just kind of get heated. Nothing of it, it's all good."
Washington pushed hard until the final whistle and created a few heartstopping moments in front of the Breakers goal, but between Alyssa Naeher's efforts and the scrum of blue jerseys deep in their own territory, Boston managed to finish out the game on top.
After the final whistle, Alyssa Naeher crouched in goal and let out a breath. Perhaps she was thinking of all the losses, all the effort, all the heartbreak of so many defeats in a row. Or perhaps she was simply in the moment, enjoying a last win at home for the season. Whatever it was, when she stood up she was all smiles, enjoying hugs with her teammates, a victory well deserved.
"It feels to good to get a W," said Naeher. "Especially last home game, come away with three points. Had obviously a tough go of it around not getting the results that we wanted, so it feels really good to be able to come out against a good team and get three points in front of our home fans in our last home game."
There were some odd moments throughout the game due to inconsistent reffing with respect to fouls. Spirit coach Mark Parsons declined to comment on the reffing, though, only saying, "I think it's the league's job to look into games and if the league don't look into this one, then I think the league's lost tonight. Got to put trust in [the league] and the people that get paid to look at that and take care of it."
Parsons was obviously disappointed about the loss but had many positives for his team. "I think the biggest positive from tonight is it was a highly emotional game in the second half," he said. "I think we were very mature, we were very tough. We were there to get three points. We didn't lose our cool. We didn't lose our style and identity. And on a different night, in a game that might result in us going into playoffs, or in a semifinal or in a final, lessons from tonight are going to be very valuable."
As for Boston and the rest of their season, the players seemed positive to face their final stretch of games after putting together their best performance in a long while. "I think we have, I think, a week break now," said Naeher. "So it'll be nice. We get our bodies back a little bit, get our legs back underneath us after a long stretch of games and we end with three games on the road. It definitely feels really good and gives us a lot of confidence going forward to finish out the season strong."
The Breakers are now 4-10-3 and still last in the league, but they can still spoil another team's playoff chances or final ranking. They next face FC Kansas City away on Saturday, August 22 at 8 PM ET.