How do you support a team that loses?
Not just a game here and there, but game after game, season after season. At this point in the Breakers' history, a lot of fans could be forgiven for just walking away. There's support in the face of bad performances, and then there's masochism.
It's not like the odds were stacked against them. Sure, the Breakers were without central defender and captain Whitney Engen, who was gone on national team duty. But it's not like the Breakers haven't had to deal with worse opposition last season, when 75% of the back line that played tonight also had to work without Engen. And backup goalkeeper Jami Kranich has played for the team before, indeed with most of the back line.
And it's not like WNY wasn't without key players either, with Sam Mewis also gone on WNT duty and starting goalkeeper Sabrina D'Angelo out with a broken wrist.
Instead the Boston defense acted like it didn't know how to function without Engen, and the offense could barely get started throughout the first half. WNY scored first around the 13' (it's hard to say, since their livestream inexplicably didn't display a game clock or scores for the first 20 minutes or so, on top of some other technical issues), with Taylor Smith shooting through a scrum of bodies in the box.
Boston managed to hold WNY off for the rest of the half and they came out in the second half with three immediate subs in Louise Schillgard, Stephanie McCaffrey, and new international signing Eunice Beckmann. Beckmann went into a central attacking role, with Schillgard and McCaffrey working around her. And for a little while it looked like they were on track for an equalizer, pushing forward into WNY territory and moving the ball well around the edges of the 18. But that old problem remained: no finishing.
In the 64', WNY scored again, this time with scattershot defending around the goal allowing a ball in to an open Lynn Williams, who was kept onside by Kassey Kallman. Williams finished easily to make it 2-0, and then not a minute later poked in yet another ball to make it 3-0. At this point the wind was sucked from Boston's sails, leaving behind a vortex of mediocrity.
Just to add insult to injury, WNY picked up a penalty in the 78' and Abby Dahlkemper put it away to make the final scoreline 4-0. For the rest of the half, Boston had nothing else to offer and barely moved the ball into dangerous positions.
So what went wrong? You can't just point to this one game. Boston has consistently been bad for over two seasons now. The players, bless them, are trying, even in the face of so much negativity. But this squad has been hamstrung by bad trades, bad drafting, and, for the last two seasons, bad coaching, none of which is the players' fault. Indeed, those problems go up to the top, to management and perhaps owners.
There's only so much that Matt Beard can undo, even with a heavily revamped roster. Boston just doesn't have enough talent in enough positions to hang with the rest of the league right now. Every single thing, big and little, has to align correctly in order for Boston to win at this point. Let's not forget, FC Kansas City actually equalized last weekend, but had the ball called back for a foul in the box on Libby Stout. Had the ref not been watching closely, Boston could have come away with a tie or even a loss if FCKC used the equalizer to get their heads back in the game.
It should not be this hard to win, let alone to simply score. Between Stephanie McCaffrey, Kristie Mewis, and Kyah Simon, there should be enough to move the ball into scoring position and get more shots on goal. Mewis is trying her damndest, but Kyah Simon keeps dropping so deep as to take her out of the equation (see: tonight, when she could be found in her own defensive third) and McCaffrey is lacking in that spark from last season. Schillgard and Zerboni aren't enough to make up for the lack of offense.
The only wild card here is Eunice Beckmann, who so far has only had 45 minutes with the team. She had some good interactions with the rest of the offense, slotting into the center of the attack, but considering how the end of the game devolved into the equivalent of a dull, blank-eyed stare of resignation, cannot be fairly evaluated on the basis of current results.
Perhaps the team will need to wait until July, when all NWSL clubs will lose their national team players, plus many of their internationals. Is it fair, though, to ask fans to wait yet another month to see results? Just how much can you ask of fans after sticking with the likes of Tom Durkin for two seasons in a row?
Perhaps it is fair; the team was mired at the bottom for so long that you can't expect Matt Beard and his new roster to claw their way back to level ground after one month and a handful of preseason games. Perhaps tomorrow Boston fans will wake up clear-eyed and rational. But for tonight, that 4-0 scoreline is sticking in everyone's craw, and you can't really blame anyone for being mad as hell.
STARTING XI: Jami Kranich; Christen Westphal, Julie King, Kassey Kallman, Mollie Pathman; Brooke Elby (Louise Schillgard, 46'), McCall Zerboni, Angela Salem, Kristie Mewis (Eunice Beckmann, 46'); Katie Schoepfer (Stephanie McCaffrey, 46'), Kyah Simon