STARTING XI: Libby Stout; Julie King (Christen Westphal, 79'). Whitney Engen, Kassey Kallman, Mollie Pathman; Brittany Ratcliffe (Morgan Marlborough, 67'), Angela Salem, McCall Zerboni (Stephanie Verdoia, 81'), Kristie Mewis; Kyah Simon, Stephanie McCaffrey
It's fair to say Boston fans are used to losing. The team finished at the bottom of the table in 2015, and second from last in 2014. They've now lost their first two games, first 1-0 to the Washington Spirit, and now 3-0 to the Seattle Reign, who themselves were coming off a loss at home to Sky Blue FC.
Boston went down early, giving up a goal in the 10' as Manon Melis looped a ball over goalkeeper Libby Stout off a Kim Little assist, and just when the Breakers were finding a back-and-forth rhythm to the game. The team sat back a little after that goal, overly cautious until head coach Matt Beard urged them to push out of the back once again.
They made some forays forward throughout the first half, Stephanie McCaffrey flickering around the edges of the box but either unable to get in quality service or having several Seattle players collapse on her and forcing a turnover. The team also looked for Kyah Simon, trying to serve the ball over the top to her, but Seattle cut out most of those. Brittany Ratcliffe, getting the start over an injured Louise Schillgard, had some good moments battling Seattle's Carson Pickett and if she and Julie King were more familiar with each other might have caused more trouble up the right side of the field.
But Seattle scored again in the 39', with Kim Little's corner kick headed in by Rachel Corsie. It was a bolstering goal for Seattle after Jess Fishlock injured her knee in a challenge against McCall Zerboni. Fishlock was in substantial pain and, after attempting to play on with her knee wrapped, came off in the 41' for Elli Reed. Seattle had to reorganize their midfield to compensate for the loss of Fishlock, a reorganization which Boston was able to exploit a little bit in the second half.
That second half started very well for Boston, who came out with energy and pushed deep into Reign territory. In the 53' Kyah Simon sent a fantastic long ball over the back line that found Kristie Mewis running onto it straight down the middle of the field. Mewis was one on one with Hope Solo, but sent the ball wide of the goal. The Breakers kept up some good ball movement for a while longer, with Kassey Kallman setting up several pushes forward either with a good step to the ball for a turnover or an accurate long clearance. The Breakers offense had several more chances to score, with Ratcliffe hitting the framework in the 57' and Kyah Simon blasting a shot over the bar in the 63'.
Beard subbed midfielder Ratcliffe for forward Morgan Marlborough in the 66', perhaps hoping another striker would enable Boston to put more pressure on Seattle, but instead Seattle regained the momentum as the half wore on. Eventually Seattle scored their third of the night in the 79' as Kim Little slipped between two defenders, received a short little ball from Beverly Yanez, and finished at a steep angle.
Boston had a few more surges late in the game, including a ball across the goal in stoppage from Verdoia, but the runner to the far post didn't arrive in time to finish.
"It's frustrating because the first two goals were definitely preventable," said Beard. "One was from our throw in and the second of course the set play. And the third goal, obviously we're chasing the game, it'd become a little bit open. And I just think the intensity we played, especially for that first 20, 25 minutes, they started to find a little bit of space and gaps which they didn't find in the whole first 70, 75 minutes of the game. So from that side of things two goals we conceded in the first half are frustrating."
So should Boston fans just save themselves the energy and brace themselves for the rest of the season, or is there a reason to keep the optimism of a new season alive? Beard pointed to the Breakers' good work at the top of the second half.
"I thought we clicked in the second half, apart from just finishing it," he said. "The one thing that we want to try and do is we want to try - I want the players to have a little bit of freedom, especially in the final third. Because if we're robotic and we just do the same things it's easy for teams to defend against us. So from my end, I said just interchange, if one goes in, one goes out. Stretch them first then drop into the space because that's what Seattle done very well in the first half. They made our back line defend, they created about 10 or 15 yards, and they would just check into the space and get on the ball. But we knew that they would do that and I felt we dealt with that from a defensive point of view, but we didn't do that to them in the first half."
It was certainly an off night for a number of Breakers players. Mewis, McCaffrey, and Simon all worked hard individually, but were mostly isolated from each other. McCall Zerboni was her usual tough self in the midfield, but she wasn't able to provide any extra connectivity in support of Mewis or Ratcliffe. On the flip side, defenders Julie King and Mollie Pathman had some good forward momentum and goalkeeper Libby Stout made several great saves. So perhaps Beard's preseason predictions that everyone would need time to come up to speed to create a team is correct. But Mewis, McCaffrey, and Simon have all played together before, albeit in a system that wasn't the most rewarding.
Still, only two games in, it could be worth it to see if the team corrects its mistakes or continues in the same vein as last season, when they would repeat the same performance game after game. At this point just making progress is enough. Perhaps that's a sad take on being a Breakers fan, but when you've been wounded as repeatedly as Boston fans have, a little caution is in order.