Starting XI: Libby Stout; Julie King (Brooke Elby, 80'), Whitney Engen, Kassey Kallman, Mollie Pathman (Christen Westphal, 80'); McCall Zerboni, Angela Salem, Louise Schillgard (Brittany Ratcliffe, 72'), Kristie Mewis; Stephanie McCaffrey, Kyah Simon
The opening game of the 2016 NWSL season started off on the wrong foot for Boston and they never quite managed to teeter back on balance, but in spite of that, there is hope that this team won't repeat the sins of seasons past.
The Breakers came out looking like they intended to put early pressure on the Spirit, but Joanna Lohman got on the end of a lobbed ball into the box and biked it into the corner of the goal in the 3'.
@JoannaLohman bicycle kick in front of goal. #NWSL pic.twitter.com/9rVjXOKcD7— Womens Football Comp (@Jigsawwill) April 16, 2016
Boston brought the pressure for the next twenty minutes or so, but began to taper off as the half progressed. Initially they were looking to McCall Zerboni to read the field and set plays in motion, but more and more they resorted to having the center backs look for the long diagonal to their wide forwards, hoping to catch them on the run so they could dart into the box.
Crystal Dunn caused her usual trouble with several penetrating runs into the box and too often she was allowed to linger in open spaces, sitting in huge gaps between defenders that somehow didn't result in goals. That was a bright spot for Boston: though they were forced to sit back and absorb pressure while looking to break out of their own half, they were able to do so without conceding another goal. They also did it while Julie King pushed very high on the right, and should she work out a little more chemistry with Louise Schillgard, could definitely help generate more scoring chances.
Schillgard was not as involved as she should have been, which is perhaps to be expected as she returns to match form after a break from soccer and she adjusts to the pace and physicality of NWSL. But she was noticeably not quite where she needed to be for most of the game until she was subbed for Brittany Ratcliffe.
Ratcliffe, Christen Westphal, and Brooke Elby all saw time on the field tonight, capping several of Boston's new young players. Elby was as physical as she promised to be in preseason and may be in contention to be the Breakers' yellow card sponge in 2016.
The Breakers also could have used more interplay between Kristie Mewis, Stephanie McCaffrey, and Kyah Simon; too often McCaffrey and Simon were asked to run onto long balls sent over the top, which only ended up bouncing out or into the hands of Washington goalkeeper Steph Labbé.
In the end, though, the team's defensive hustle was enough to limit Washington to that one early goal, leaving them a bit unlucky not to have left the Maryland Soccerplex with at least a 0-0 tie. Tweaks to the offense, including getting Schillgard up to speed and upping general fitness all over the field, should result in at least getting more balls on frame. In the meantime, with seven shots on goal for Washington and two for Boston, it's clear that the offense needs more time to gel.
Head coach Matt Beard has several times asked fans to be patient with the team, realistically assessing that they need until May to truly adjust to all the offseason changes, and it looks like tonight is bearing out his prediction. Still, the team does look more fluid than last year, and the defense with the addition of Whitney Engen in the center is now capable of absorbing much more pressure without conceding a goal. That stability in the center will almost certainly help free up the fullbacks to attack up the flanks and support Mewis and Schillgard in the attack, giving McCaffrey and Simon more options in how they attack the box.
Breakers fans will see if Beard was right come May.
Boston next plays the Seattle Reign at home on April 24 at 6:30 PM ET.