The Boston Breakers played their first preseason game of 2016, and while preseason is a notoriously unreliable indicator of how a team will perform during the season, it is worth nothing that the team looks different from itself this time last year.
The Breakers played three 30-minute periods against Northeastern University, winning 7-0 with seven different scorers. They had the great bulk of possession and shots, staying mostly in NU's defensive third, but occasionally having to deal with a speedy foray into Boston territory.
New head coach Matt Beard started with what might end up as his preferred starting XI, but rotated much of his roster and looked at several players in several different positions. Here are the lineups via the Breakers press release:
First period: Jami Kranich, Julie King, Whitney Engen, Kassey Kallman, Christen Westphal, Angela Salem, McCall Zerboni, Kristie Mewis, Louise Schillgard, Katie Schoepfer, Stephanie McCaffrey
Second period: Jami Kranich, Christen Westphal (Brooke Elby, 15), Julie King, Whitney Engen, Kassey Kallman (Mollie Pathman, 15), McCall Zerboni (Rachel Wood, 15), Kristie Mewis, Louise Schillgard, Brittany Ratcliffe, Stephanie McCaffrey (Stephanie Verdoia, 15), Morgan Marlborough
Third period: Jami Kranich, Brooke Elby, Rachel Wood, Kylie Strom, Mollie Pathman, Angela Salem, Jo Blankenship, Stephanie Verdoia, Lauren Lazo, Elise Krieghoff, Brittany Ratcliffe (Katie Schoepfer, 15)
Beard shifted around players like Mewis, Schillgard, Wood, and King, while playing McCaffrey, Ratcliffe, Zerboni, and Salem in generally stable positions. This makes sense, with McCaffrey's strengths as a width player being widely known, and Zerboni being brought in for the primary purpose of strengthening the midfield.
The shifting of Julie King from pairing with Whitney Engen at center back to right wing could be Beard looking for versatility in his back line, especially given the uncertainty around Engen's presence all season based on if she makes the Olympic roster or not. Odds are good Engen will go as a third CB for the USWNT, meaning Kallman will need a partner to fill in for her absence. At one point Kallman was playing on the wing as well while King and Engen stayed central, so Engen seems to be a lock as that main CB at the base of the team's spine. Engen was already vocal with the team, organizing the back line with Kallman and relaying instructions from Beard.
Mewis drifted around the midfield, coming centrally more often than last season when she was asked to hang left. Zerboni and Salem were fairly connective, feeding the ball into the box for runners several times. McCaffrey and Schillgard both acted as creators, with Schillgard especially coming off as a technical player comfortable with the ball at her feet.
Fans also got to see Boston's top draft pick Christen Westphal in action for the Breakers for the first time. Westphal stayed on the wing as a defender and it was clear she was still coming up to speed with the team, learning throughout the game from Kassey Kallman. At one point she and Kallman had a communication error and collided going for a header; these are the kinds of kinks that get worked out when integrating new players, especially rookies.
New signing Brooke Elby was also used on the right as a fullback, and impressed by getting stuck in and making constant runs to help deliver service from wide. Between the rotating center backs and the options Beard has for fullbacks in Lazo, Elby, Westphal, King, and Pathman, there will definitely be competition to get into the back four.
Goalkeeper Jami Kranich played the entire time, which makes sense assuming Beard is more familiar with his old Liverpool GK Libby Stout and would prefer to get a better sense of Kranich, who was Alyssa Naeher's backup in 2015. It'll be interesting to see if draft pick Abby Smith gets any time during preseason, which would indicate whether or not she's fighting with Kranich for the #2 spot behind Stout.
This is certainly a team in flux. There have been big changes at nearly every position, and Beard's coaching style is markedly different from his predecessor Tom Durkin. The Breakers have historically done well in preseason, as they should facing mostly college-level opposition, only to fall during the regular season. This could be the year Beard halts that trend, but of course one preseason game is hardly enough to say for sure.
Goal Time Team Goal Scorer
1 12 Boston Kristie Mewis Louise Schillgard
2 30 Boston Katie Schopefer
3 38 Boston Morgan Marlborough Stephanie McCaffrey
4 42 Boston Julie King
5 52 Boston Brittany Ratcliffe Louise Schillgard
6 67 Boston Rachel Wood Mollie Pathman
7 78 Boston Elise Krieghoff