Who: Boston Breakers vs Washington Spirit
Where: Maryland Soccerplex
When: 7 PM ET / 4 PM PT
How to watch: Streaming live on NWSL's youtube channel (non-geoblocked)
Previously: The last time these two teams met was August 8, 2015. The Breakers beat the Spirit 2-1 at home. Their other 2015 meeting was a 1-1 tie away. The Spirit ended the 2015 season 8-6-6 in fourth place, while the Breakers were 4-13-3 and in dead last.
It's hard making predictions coming into this season. A lot has happened in the offseason, especially for the Breakers. The Spirit have a new goalkeeper in Canadian Stephanie Labbé and some new field players like defender Shelina Zadorsky and forward Katie Stengel, but overall their roster continuity is a lot stronger. Even their new coach isn't that new; head coach Jim Gabarra returns to Washington from Sky Blue FC, who were 5-8-7 last season and eighth in the league, right above the Breakers. Gabarra previously coached the Washington Freedom in WUSA, a team Cat Whitehill once played for.
Meanwhile, half the Breakers roster is entirely new through drafts, trades, and signings. Their goalkeepers are new and huge chunks of every single line on the field are new too. Even with anchors like Kassey Kallman and Kristie Mewis returning, they're still having to integrate new center backs, new defensive mids, and new wide mids and forwards. Much will depend on McCall Zerboni in the midfield and her ability to pick out the other midfielders and forwards.
The Breakers do have a bit more depth to rely on this season, with Brittany Ratcliffe as a sub option in midfield and Brooke Elby making an impression at fullback. Both of them might be used as impact subs.
It's hard not to edge the Spirit, though, with more of their roster returning and the Breakers having to adjust to new players and a new head coach who's trying to implement a new system. The Breakers are working on their fluidity and they have strong attacking options on both wings in Stephanie McCaffrey and Louise Schillgard, but at the same time their defense will have to cope with the ever-elusive Crystal Dunn, while also denying Diana Matheson and Christine Nairn in the midfield. This might be a game that ends up being played out on the wings while the midfield turns into a battleground.
Although a win would be nice, a more realistic expectation here would be seeing coherence in the back line, and connectivity through Zerboni that helps generate shots and crosses. The Breakers in preseason have already looked different from last season; now it's left for them to actually translate that into the regular season.