The Boston Breakers have turned a corner.
What, exactly, they’ve turned into remains to be seen as we head into a three-week Olympic break. But here are the facts: The Breakers have finally won a game after losing five in a row, although the last two games they certainly could have won with a slightly tighter performance. They’ve now scored three games in a row. They won this game against Orlando off the back of their latest signing, forward Natasha Dowie, some lucky calls from the refs, one ball off the post, and mostly organized defense.
That’s a combination of a good team win and the luck that seems to have eluded Boston all season long, with a little cherry on top as Boston got one back on Orlando after losing to them at the last minute earlier this month.
Starting XI: Jami Kranich, Brooke Elby, Kassey Kallman, Julie King, Christen Westphal, Brittany Ratcliffe, Katie Schoepfer, Angela Salem, Stephanie Verdoia, Louise Schillgard, Natasha Dowie
Things got off to a brisk start as the teams pushed back and forth. A disastrous back pass from Orlando in the 10’ saw Dowie running through a gap in the defense and pouncing on the ball, finishing it calmly past their goalkeeper Kaitlyn Savage.
That goal would prove to be the game-winner. Even though Orlando pushed harder and harder as the first half ground on, they either couldn’t get their shots on frame or got stymied by the Boston defense. They managed to get a goal in the 22’, a nicely placed pass on the ground that slipped right past Kranich to be finished by a totally unmarked Kaylyn Kyle, but it got called back for offside.
Then in the 37’ another Orlando attack with a free kick that bounced off the post and got cleared, leading to a Boston counter with Dowie running at a defender one-v-one, but unable to put enough mustard on the ball from long range. Orlando continued pushing for a goal throughout the first half, with Boston responding with a couple of long balls over the top for Dowie and Ratcliffe.
The second half was more back and forth, this time with Orlando coming out of the gate stronger at first, but with Boston absorbing and being able to get back some control after a few minutes. Orlando’s Jasmyne Spencer worked her way into the half and gave Christen Westphal trouble on the wing; Westphal was sometimes caught too high to deal with Spencer, which would lead to trouble in the box for the other defenders. Meanwhile, Boston continued to nose around Orlando’s goal but not with enough accuracy.
Boston’s first sub was in the 68’ as Katie Schoepfer came off with an injury and Elise Krieghoff subbed in, moving over to the right and dropping Schillgard deeper into the middle with Salem. Krieghoff immediately set up a great ball for Dowie on the run, but Dowie ended up at too steep an angle to get a proper shot on goal and she popped the ball high and wide.
Boston made two quick subs as the game went into its end stage. Elby came off with an injury too in the 79’ and Kylie Strom went in, while Dowie came off in the 81’ for Rachel Wood. Wood ended up as a recessed forward, pushing hard to score but also trying to provide a little more protection for the midfield. She had a couple of good attacks, including an interception in the 87’ that bounced past Toni Pressley for a running Verdoia and got deflected back to Wood, who slid into the ball and sent it just wide of the post.
The Breakers managed their time much better than against Orlando, taking the ball deep into the corner as often as they could and riding out four minutes of stoppage to finally earn a win.
“It was just great to be playing football again. It’s been three months since I played my last game,” said Dowie after the game. “I played under Matt since was 17... I know that he really like respects me as a player and I respect him as a coach so I just wanted to help the team get their win. I’ve been watching every game; they’ve been so close and they’ve been unlucky so for me first and foremost I wanted to work hard and try and help the team win and to get a goal, even better.”
“We worked on the high pressure all week, with regards to not letting their center halves have the ball,” said Beard on some of his keys for beating Orlando. “We tweaked what we’ve done [with] our possession slightly because - look, in Orlando you couldn't press. Even I lost about 10 pounds walking up and down the touchline, it was that hot.... I wanted us to be a little bit braver in possession, especially getting the fullbacks forward and creating the overloads, and I felt we’ve done that better in the second half.”
There were some holes that need fixing - if not for a couple of close offside calls, Boston’s backline might have gotten caught out on Orlando’s attack. Ratcliffe needs to be integrated more into the attack, though she did have some good runs down the flank. Verdoia also needs to be faster in finding Dowie’s feet, but that’s something that the team can take its time with in the Olympic break.
On the bright side, Louise Schillgard is quietly becoming one of the Breakers’ most pivotal midfield pieces, and if she and Dowie can form a good connection here, that could spell more goals.
There still remains the question of Ghoutia Karchouni, who did not play tonight, though she was available as a sub. Karchouni now has plenty of time to integrate into the team along with Dowie while Beard figures out how he wants to fit them in the lineup around Eunice Beckmann, Verdoia, and Ratcliffe. This may also be a good time for Kristie Mewis to heal from a lingering sprain and get back into action.
Boston will next face FC Kansas City away on Sunday, August 28 at 6 PM ET.