STARTING XI: Abby Smith, Julie King, Kassey Kallman, Whitney Engen, Mollie Pathman, McCall Zerboni, Angela Salem (Rachel Wood, 83'), Kristie Mewis, Louise Schillgard, Stephanie McCaffrey (Brittany Ratcliffe, 83'), Kyah Simon
Three games in, and it's not looking great for Boston.
It's also not looking hideous either.
The Boston Breakers hosted Portland on a drizzly grey Sunday evening, a game that seemed deadlocked throughout the first half, then opened up somewhat in the second.
The first half had a lot of give and take between teams, with Tobin Heath doing her best to pull the strings for Portland while Boston tried to control the middle and push play towards Stephanie McCaffrey and Kyah Simon. Kristie Mewis was asked to do some playmaking and had her moments as the team's creative engine, including a particularly good sequence worked with McCall Zerboni in the 41' that ended in Mewis taking a decent long-range shot.
The second half showed some improvement from the Breakers; where they were a little lethargic moving into the Thorns' defensive third before, now they had more urgency, putting four shots on goal as opposed to zero in the first half. McCaffrey had a shot ping off the crossbar in the 49' and Julie King got a header on frame that looked like it might sneak past Thorns keeper Adrianna Franch, but was gathered up in the end.
Both teams tried to catch the other in transition, breaking out of their own half only to swirl to a stop around the box. The Breakers were mostly good about absorbing Portland's counters, although they did get caught scrambling a few times.
"I was frustrated second half because we was in complete control of the game," said head coach Matt Beard. "We start the second half well, and then we start giving the ball away every second or third pass, and the game becomes so open."
In the end a set play in the 79' made the difference, with Julie King called for taking down Meghan Klingenberg at the edge of the box (though to some observers and Tobin Heath, who went right to the penalty spot, it did seem to occur inside the 18). Heath stood over the free kick and delivered it nicely into the box, where Dagny Brynjarsdottir ran past her defender to finish it with her head.
Goal against notwithstanding, the bright spot for Boston tonight was rookie goalkeeper Abby Smith, who was very strong in her box and either kept the air clear or was quick off her line to smother dangerous balls. Beard was pleased with her performance after the game. "I think even like, just looking at the first two games, her being involved in the pro environment and training day in, day out, I can see her growing with every training session," he said.
In terms of the overall game, "frustrated" was the watchword for Beard.
"First and foremost, I think the scoreline was harsh on us. Frustrated because we've lost the game to a set play," said Beard. "We've created some good chances today. The pleasing thing is we've worked the [Portland] goalkeeper on what I'd say were our better chances, whereas the weeks before we've gotten great goalscoring positions and we've either put it wide or we've put it over. I just think it's a matter of time. Once we get a win, I think we can go on a good run."
"Today I think, again we made Portland in the first half look very very average. And the frustrating thing for me is, we've got to start turning these into positive results for us. I know it's going to come. I always knew these first three games were tough. We played Washington what made the playoffs for the last two years. We played Portland Thorns and Seattle Reign; Seattle Reign meant to be the best team in the country."
Beard ended the press conference on an up note, though. "We showed a lot of character and we put them back under pressure," he said. "So that's just a good sign mentally that the group are in a good place."