After a week in Florida in which the Boston Breakers made progress as a team but also couldn't seem to find the mark scoring-wise, they made whatever adjustments they needed and pelted Boston College with eight unanswered goals.
STARTING XI: Abby Smith, Mollie Pathman, Christen Westphal, Rachel Wood, Julie King, McCall Zerboni, Angela Salem, Kristie Mewis, Louise Schillgard, Stephanie McCaffrey, Kyah Simon
SUBS: Brooke Elby (Wood, 69'), Brittany Ratcliffe (Salem, 76'), Elise Krieghoff (Simon, 83')
SCORING SUMMARY: Simon (12', Zerboni), McCaffrey (32', Mewis), Schillgard (37'), Mewis (PK, 41'), Schillgard (51'), Zerboni (52', Mewis), Mewis (73', McCaffrey), Schillgard (74')
To be entirely fair Boston College is certainly not quite the same competition as Florida State, but they did put the Breakers through their paces and force them to retreat into patient play out of the back here and there. But playing college teams isn't about facing tough competition; it's about working out the Breakers' own weaknesses and ironing out the kinks. There will also be a period of adjustment when the team hits the regular season, as head coach Matt Beard warned several times in a post-game interview.
"I'm confident that we can have a good year, but the key message for the players, for the fans, is that we just all need to be patient initially. You got to let us bed in, you got to let me bed in, you got to let the players bed in," said Beard.
The team certainly seems to be adjusting; the differences between their first preseason game and this preseason game were notable in several places.
Rookie Christen Westphal is starting to settle in, and today got a full 90' without the aid of veteran and anchor CB Kassey Kallman. McCall Zerboni is clicking more and more with fellow midfielders Angela Salem and Kristie Mewis, and is consistently finding ways to feed the forwards. Julie King and Mollie Pathman both pressed very high up the field in overlapping runs that paid off dividends either by stretching the play wide and opening up gaps in the defense or sending balls into the box. There were eight goals from five different players, including a hat trick for Louise Schillgard and a brace for Kristie Mewis.
Beard experimented less with the lineup as well, playing the team under regular match conditions instead of earlier preseason rules allowing more than three substitutes to help with maximum rotation. Beard's backline looks certain to include Westphal, with Julie King playing central or outside as needed, and Rachel Wood as an able backup for Kassey Kallman.
Zerboni will be key to the team in the midfield, setting the tempo and distributing the ball. Right now it's looking like she'll be an every-minute-of-every-game player for Boston, especially with Sinead Farrelly's medical status still hazy. The Breakers declined to provide an update on her, although she was at the game.
But Zerboni won't have to carry the midfield alone, with Salem as her partner getting stuck in and helping move the ball around and both Schillgard and Mewis engaged in creating around the box. Currently the midfield looks more fluid than it did last season, allowing players to shift back and forth as necessary - and even to switch fields, as McCaffrey and Schillgard did for part of the first half - in support of a lone striker like Kyah Simon or Elise Krieghoff.
So what to draw from this preseason game? Probably not too much, except that the players are learning to coordinate with each other, they're calibrating their shots to be more on target, and their fitness is coming up to league standard. Coach Beard was cautiously optimistic in his postgame interview, with caution being the keyword.
"Preseason isn't about winning football matches," Beard said. "Preseason's about getting the players fit and getting them to understand what I'm asking them to do."
The Breakers will play their first 2016 game away against the Washington Spirit on Saturday, April 16 at 7 PM ET.