The Boston Breakers are on the road again, and tomorrow they'll face the Western New York Flash in the second of a series of four games against them as part of NWSL's attempts to set up each team with a regional "rival."
To be a rival, you have to be able to offer some resistance, and there wasn't any indication in these teams' last meeting that Boston was able to do so. The Flash beat Boston 4-0 on May 27, although the Breakers were missing defender Whitney Engen for that game while she was gone on national team duty.
Engen is back for this game - but she was back for their last game against Chicago too, and they lost 3-0.
The Flash are not Chicago, though. That's not to say they're bad, and Chicago have shown some cracks in their roster, but the Flash don't quite have the same ability to put together a deft attack.
What they do have is Sam Mewis, Jess McDonald, and Lynn Williams. Makenzy Doniak is coming along nicely too in her rookie year. These are all threats the Breakers will have to neutralize despite not really having a solid defensive midfielder to fill the hole left by McCall Zerboni, who just got traded back to the Flash from Boston.
That probably means sticking with the five back with Angela Salem sitting in front of them - Salem has been quietly working hard all season long, but she needs more help in the middle. Will that help come from Rachel Wood? Katie Schoepfer? None of the above? Looking at the team's last starting XI, the five back and lack of Zerboni required Salem to kind of operate on her own there to allow Kristie Mewis, Louise Schillgard, Stephanie McCaffrey, and Kyah Simon to function as attackers, Simon's responsibility to also drop deeper notwithstanding.
The Flash are coming off a 2-0 loss against Portland and they're sitting at fourth on the table; a win would hopscotch them into second place, just two points behind that very same Portland team. Boston is, of course at the very bottom of the table, and a win would leave them in last place, although it would position them to move up possibly to eighth or maybe even seventh place. Imagine - the rarefied air at seventh place!
Unfortunately, Kristie Mewis is out for this game with a right ankle sprain, the same injury that kept her out against the Washington Spirit a couple of weeks ago. Goalkeeper Libby Stout is listed as doubtful with a right quad strain, so we may see backup Jami Kranich start in goal. That game against the Spirit with Mewis out ended up as a 1-1 tie, one of two results the Breakers have earned this season, but that was only because they were gifted a penalty kick. With Mewis out, it becomes more likely we'll see a Brittany Ratcliffe start.
Anyway. Maybe a roster shakeup is in order. Maybe a formation shakeup too - return to a four-back to free up an attacker. Score some goals, even it if costs the team in defense. No one is really expecting a win right now, but proving that the team can score goals would be a big step forward, pun fully intended. Try Rachel Wood at holding mid, move Brooke Elby up so that she doesn't have as many responsibilities to track back.
Or it could be that Beard sees his five back system is close to working out, so close to working out, if only his attackers could really get in form. Can the team afford to wait for that to happen? With half the season left to go, picking up points could mean ending up mid-table, a significant improvement over the last two seasons. That might be worth experimenting, especially as Whitney Engen will be gone for several games as we approach the Olympics.
Boston Breakers vs WNY Flash kicks off at 7 PM ET on Friday, June 24. It will stream live on NWSL's youtube channel.