Something something bottom of the table joke. That was 2016 for the Boston Breakers - but there was something else in the mix too. New head coach, new players, new optimism (or really...any optimism at all). There were plenty of lows, but there were cautious highs as well. This season was like a new farmer arriving at a field everyone thought would no longer yield crops, going “welp,” and beginning the hard work of clearing away stones and debris so that it would be ready for planting next season. With that overwrought metaphor in place, here are the best and worst Boston Breakers moments from 2016.
Abby Smith gets a season-ending knee injury
Abby Smith had a promising start for Boston. In just her second cap, it was looking like Boston would have a 1 and 1A goalkeeper situation, as opposed to a clear starter and a backup. But then Smith landed awkwardly in the first half of a May 7 game against the Chicago Red Stars and ended up with a strained ACL and torn patellar tendon. It would be her last game of 2016 for the Breakers. At least she’s recovering and on schedule to return in 2017.
Boston loses 7-1 to the WNY Flash
Boston lost to the Flash a lot this season thanks to NWSL’s attempt to create regional rivalries through scheduling. The Flash were picked as Boston’s “rival,” meaning they would have to play four games total as opposed to the two they would play against the other teams in the league. They went 0-3-1 against WNY with a -14 goal differential. But the one that was the absolute, bottom-scraping worst was the 7-1 away loss on June 24. It was so bad, head coach Matt Beard called it “the lowest point in my football career.”
Alyssa Naeher gets traded to Chicago
For years, Breakers faithful could rely on just about one thing: Alyssa Naeher. She won NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year in 2014 despite a second-from-last table finish, a testament to what an outlier she was for a team mired in on-field struggles. And then in came new head coach Matt Beard, who wanted to shore up the spine of his outfield players and traded Naeher to Chicago for defender Whitney Engen. Results were mixed; Engen immediately took command of the back line, but was often gone on national team duty. Goals against stayed level at 4.7 GA/game from 2015 to ‘16. Engen may not return to the team either, still ruminating on her future with the Breakers and with soccer in general after being summarily dismissed from the USWNT by head coach Jill Ellis. Even though new GK Libby Stout stepped up and had some amazing moments in goal herself, the loss of Naeher was a big shock for Boston fans who thought they at least had this one thing solidly in the “doesn’t suck” column.
Boston makes good off-the-field moves
Boston didn’t just re-tool itself on the field in 2016; it made plenty of business decisions that saw increases in its average attendance and sponsorship partners. They were fairly transparent about some of it as well, discussing details of their plans and goals for growth with fans. They made deals with sponsors like Bud Light and grew their average attendance by 24.6% from 2,863 in 2015 to 3,570 in 2016. The team said they were close to breakeven and planned to be there or flat out turning a profit by 2018, with the obvious implication that team still plans to be operating in 2018.
So long and thanks for all the points FCKC
If WNY was Boston’s bogeyman, then FC Kansas City was their consolation prize (sorry FCKC). They got two firsts this season against FCKC: their first home win, and their first away win. Not just first of the season, their first away win in two years.
At the beginning of the season, Boston was on a bad losing streak, going five in a row with no points and no goals. Then came a home game against FCKC on May 22. Whitney Engen scored in the first half and the team held on to the lead to win 1-0. Afterwards, players hugged each other and literally sagged in relief, happily unaware that they were about to take the first of several drubbings from WNY next weekend.
Natasha Dowie is here to chew bubblegum and score goals
And she arrived on American shores fresh out of bubblegum.
No one can deny that the Breakers’ goalscoring situation was dire before Dowie showed up. Before Dowie debuted for Boston against Orlando on July 31, the team had scored six goals in 13 games. After Dowie, they scored eight goals in eight games. Dowie herself scored in her debut, helping Boston beat Orlando at home 1-0 and ended up bagging three goals in seven games. She was a fantastic offensive spark, especially considering the speed at which she integrated with the team. Dowie wasn’t even supposed to be available to Boston in 2016, but a quirk with her contract with Doncaster Rovers Belles in the FAWSL sent her over to NWSL earlier than expected, and Boston couldn’t be more grateful.
What were your Boston Breakers highlights and/or lowlights from 2016? Let us know in the comments.