Boston has been making moves in the offseason. A lot of moves. In November alone they signed three new players while trading starting players Kristie Mewis and Kassey Kallman to the Washington Spirit. They currently have seven draft picks and will be looking to make even more trades in the weeks to come. It’s about as thorough a roster overhaul as you could ask for after a bad season.
Head coach Matt Beard took some time to answer questions about his moves so far - and to hint at what he’ll be doing in the near future. In terms of recruiting, Beard is starting from a basic platform of putting together good people, on and off the pitch.
“The key thing for me is whenever I recruit players and when I look to build a team is to have, they can be a good player, they’ve got to be a good person and have the right characteristics as well,” he said. “I think if you look at last year at Western New York and you look at Washington, the togetherness of the groups got them...to a championship final. For me it’s important we’re mixing some young hungry players who’ve got potential to break into the national team, and we’re looking at obviously players that are hungry to want to come in and do well and turn this club around on the pitch.”
Among those young hungry players is defender Megan Oyster, recently acquired from the Spirit. But Beard has apparently had his eye on her since before he joined the league due to his relationship with Mark Parsons, and he thinks she can go to the very top.
“I think Megan’s a very very good footballer,” he said. “She’s comfortable on the ball. Watching her in the [2016 NWSL] championship game, the view that we had right behind the goal was brilliant. She’s very comfortable on the ball and I felt that’s the type of player that I like and that we need especially if we’re looking to be a team that’s going to try to play through the thirds. She can play and she can get it forward.... I’ve watched her play for a few years now. She’s always a player that I’ve admired and I’m just glad that we managed to get the trade done to bring her here.”
There was one other Spirit player that Beard tried to get for Boston: midfielder Christine Nairn. “We tried to bring here here but it didn’t work out,” he said. “It’s one of them things as a player, that I think is a good player and I admire, but we couldn’t get that trade over the line.”
Still, Beard has brought in solid midfield talent as well as some additional firepower in the attack; 2017 definitely shouldn’t see Natasha Dowie carrying the goalscoring burden entirely on her back. There’s Rosie White from New Zealand and Emilie Haavi from Norway now.
“[Rosie’s] a player that can get in between the lines,” said Beard. “She’s got a very good background and a very good brain by the way of creating things. Haavi is sort of your out-and-out old style winger who will cause teams problems. Especially the way how open the games become.... The good thing is we’ve obviously got Natasha who came here and scored goals and she’s now at Melbourne [Victory] scoring goals, and I’m confident with a full season under her belt here there’s no reason why she can’t average a goal a game.”
Of course, Boston will be without one of its key midfielders in 2017, as Louise Schillgard declined a second year with Boston and returned to Sweden. “It’s family reasons,” said Beard. “She’s got obviously a young boy and her husband works. The way they made it work this year is her husband could take what you’d call paternity leave. So he still got paid from his job.... We were hopeful she would come back but deep down I think we both knew it would be difficult for her to come back. Ultimately she’s a mum and their life’s in Sweden.” (Sweden has incredibly generous paid parental leave laws for both mothers and fathers - parents are entitled to 480 days of leave that can be taken until a child turns eight.)
Deeper in the midfield there’s Amanda DaCosta returning to Boston. How does she fit into the lineup?
“Amanda first and foremost is a very good professional,” said Beard. “She can do numerous roles in midfield. She’s been playing in the eight role for Portugal, she can play in the 10. She’s a very clever player. She can get between the lines. She moves the ball well. It just gives me options to have. I didn’t have these options last year. At times, especially when we had Mewis out injured and we had Libby out injured, I just didn’t have the strength and depth. It’s something that we really wanted to make sure that we have this year is that we had a stronger XI and we have players that can impact and if players are injured or missing it doesn’t impact us so much. The depth that I inherited from Tom just wasn’t strong enough.”
Moving back into the formation, there’s the defense. Kassey Kallman has been a fixture for Boston at center back for two years now, but with her gone and anchor Whitney Engen still not assured for another season, there are concerns about the back line.
“We’re talking on a regular basis,” said Beard of Engen. “We’re just going to be patient with it. We don’t start until March. Whitney’s someone that I respect a lot and we want her to come back but again, if she decides that’s not going to be the case that’s something we just have to respect. You’ve still got an international spot open. Obviously we’ve got a lot of draft picks. We would love her to come back and I’m hopeful that she does but once she makes her decision then we’ll deal with it at that time.”
There’s no deadline on that decision just yet, from either the league or the club. Beard emphasized how much time is left before preseason 2017 as giving both him and Engen a cushion.
“Obviously getting cut from the national team hurt her,” he said. “I’m not going to put any pressure on her to give me a decision. If I was starting preseason next week then yes there would be, but we’re not starting until March. We’ve got the draft in January. So from my perspective there’s no real rush. I’m pleased with the business that we’re doing so far. I’m hopeful we’re going to have another couple of trades, players brought in over the next sort of week or two, and hopefully get everything finalized, wait for Whitney, and then we can just concentrate on the draft, and that’s something I’m looking forward to as well.”
Beard was tight-lipped on what those trades in the “next sort of week or two” would look like. “You know what it’s like, I don’t want to give anything away and then anything changes,” he said. “All I can say is we are in negotiations to improve the team. As soon as we’re done obviously we’ll let you know.”
The team’s draft picks do have a hand in those trades, though. Boston currently holds picks 1, 3, 9, 11, 12, 15, 16, 21, and 31 overall. “I can’t see us using all them picks,” said Beard. “We obviously - we’re not going to move one, I’m definitely not moving 11 or 12. 15 and 16...right now I think if we can walk away with four players from the draft I think that puts us in a good position. I read what you’ve said and I’m all for the draft. I’m all for these young players. I learned my lessons from last year but at the same time...that McCaffrey trade I think set us up for the year and obviously the trade we’ve just done with Washington has put us in a real strong position now because we’ve got some really good value in a big draft where we can get maybe one or two players.”
Four players from the draft means Beard has been keeping his eye on the college game, and that includes the currently-running College Cup.
“I’ve watched so many games,” he said. “Obviously I’m now starting to whittle my [college] list down. I’ve got a top 10. Last year we had a specific plan because we needed to cover certain positions. This time around, subject to availability of the knowledge of what players are doing, because I’ve heard one or two are going abroad, so we’ll pick the best players that are available because I think it’s important for us now that we can do that. I‘ve got some good senior players at the club that could be a mentor to some of these players. We can take time bedding them into the professional game. The college game is completely different to the professional game. We want to make sure them players come in and have a smooth transition.”
So: international signings, perhaps with one more to come. Trades, definitely with more to come. College recruits scouted. It sounds like things are falling into place and shaping up for a fairly different 2017 in Boston.
“What we’ve done towards the back end of last season has set us really for the recruitment process this time around,” said Beard. “I’ve never shied away from saying I’ve always wanted to freshen the squad up. I had a frustrating year making my decisions as we went and I think we’re going to be in a real good place when we get back in it for preseason. It will be a new squad. It will be my team, not someone else’s team. We can look forward to a successful year.”