For five games now, Boston Breakers Matt Beard has said the goals are coming. He wasn't entirely wrong; you could see by the way the Breakers played for stretches at a time that they were certainly capable of getting one, and had sometimes been flat out robbed by goal line clearances.
Tonight they finally took the monkey clinging to their backs and gave it the old heave ho.
STARTING XI: Libby Stout; Julie King, Whitney Engen (c), Kassey Kallman, Mollie Pathman, Brooke Elby (Christen Westphal, 65'); McCall Zerboni (Louise Schillgard, 56'), Angela Salem, Kristie Mewis; Katie Schoepfer (Stephanie McCaffrey, 69'), Kyah Simon
Boston came out with some changes to both its lineup and its formation, dropping usual starters Stephanie McCaffrey and Louise Schillgard in favor of Katie Schoepfer and Brooke Elby. Beard also moved them around into a 5-3-2, with fullbacks Elby and Pathman given free reign to press high on the wings while Mewis, Schoepfer, and Simon worked to rotate in the midfield.
The game started off at a fairly quick tempo as the teams felt each other out. Kyah Simon had some early chances on goal as Boston tried to press early, but eventually the two teams went into more of a push-and-pull rhythm. Boston worked hard to be disruptive when they didn't have possession, which earned them an early corner kick.
Kristie Mewis stood over the ball for Boston and delivered it far post, where Whitney Engen was rising. She headed it into the net to make it 1-0, a scoreline that would end up standing until the final whistle. (It must be noted that this goal snapped a particularly disheartening scoreless streak of 571 minutes.)
Boston had a few more chances in the rest of the first half, pressing until the last few minutes when Beard was calling for them to manage the game and get them into the locker room with a lead. Their defense also continued absorbing FCKC's probing forays into the defensive third and Libby Stout made an excellent stop in the 36' to preserve the clean sheet.
The second half was a little dicier, both teams resuming their give and take. Libby Stout did well to remain assertive in her box and the back five stayed organized, pinching off FCKC runners by doubling up on them. The Breakers also had some good ball movement through the midfield, Kristie Mewis often serving as the engine behind these passing sequences. Unfortunately, this good possession kept petering out when it reached the 18, with the final ball not finding feet or the shooter unable to get it on frame. Boston did better when they got the ball out wide, with Julie King often making that overlapping run, and sometimes even driving up through the middle.
Beard was forced to go to his bench a little sooner than he might have liked, with Louise Schillgard coming in for McCall Zerboni in the 56'. Zerboni had earlier gone down from a hit and had to come off the field for treatment, though she re-entered the game. Schillgard helped add to some of that midfield ball movement, but wasn't quite able to get off a final decisive pass or get a clear shot on goal.
Beard made two more subs in the 64' and 69', with Christen Westphal coming in for Brooke Elby and Stephanie McCaffrey coming in for Katie Schoepfer. These were two like-for-like subs that maintained the team's shape, although Westphal didn't get forward as much as Elby, who also took some hard knocks in the game. McCaffrey showed some signs of sparkage high on both sides of the field and managed to earn the team a couple of corner kicks with her deep drives to the end line.
Boston had a few more chances at the net, including Kyah Simon getting a great run on goal in the 78' that ended with her near-post shot curving away and wide. Simon spent much of the game dropping deeper as part of Beard's fluid system between mids and forwards, and she had a couple of good passes to pick out runners when she was deeper, while she also had a great run of her own in the 89' when she was able to spin Becky Sauerbrunn and run onto a ball that Nicole Barnhart had to rush out of her own 18 to clear.
In the end Engen's goal was enough. The Breakers managed the four minutes of stoppage and came away with their first win of the season, moving them ahead of two-time league champions FCKC and into ninth place.
"Like I said previously, we've been in games where we've done well and got nothing out of it. And I think tonight, from start to finish, I thought we were fantastic," said Beard after the game. "It's a relief obviously to get the goal, it's a relief to get the win because now we can actually enjoy the football."
The formation change might have come as a surprise after five games with relatively minor deviations, but Beard had this in mind after loss number five, according to Engen, who mentioned practicing a five back all week.
"We've done well with the 4-2-3-1 or the 4-3-3, whatever you want to call it," said Beard. "But we just felt getting couple more bodies centrally up the pitch, because you've got three center halves, it allows you to get more mature players forward as well. We just wanted to mix it up a little bit."
"The graft and the grind that we've put through has finally paid off a little bit," said Engen after the game. "And I think that it helps us to stay committed to the process, because that's what this is going to be, it's going to be a process."