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Boston Breakers win first away game in 2 years in 2-0 defeat of FC Kansas City

Is this really happening?

Stephanie Yang

STARTING XI: Jami Karnich, Brooke Elby, Whitney Engen, Kassey Kallman, Julie King, Angela Salem, Katie Schoepfer, Stephanie Verdoia, Brittany Ratcliffe, Louise Schillgard, Natasha Dowie

It was a bright start for Boston in their return to action after the Olympic break.

Boston came out onto a hot 90-degree field against FCKC looking as comfortable as they’ve ever looked moving the ball and making good off-the-ball runs. Brittany Ratcliffe was threatening especially in the earlier parts of the first half, making good runs to peel away from her defenders and working well with Natasha Dowie in the box, either positioning herself in front of goal or looking for the centering pass.

Boston was unlucky several times not to get a goal, including in the 6’ when Louise Schillgard lobbed a diagonal to Ratcliffe on the run and Ratcliffe popped it over the goal. There was another beautiful long ball in the 13’ that found Dowie’s head; she put it back across the face of goal and Stephanie Verdoia was there at point-blank range, but unable to quite get her foot on it.

FCKC has their share of chances as well, especially coming from the right where Heather O’Reilly was too often left to her own devices. Brooke Elby was stationed on the left and was supposed to be watching O’Reilly, but was several times caught too high or pulled in too tight with the rest of the back line. O’Reilly put the ball in dangerous positions and took some shots herself, including a breakaway in the 11’ that had Kassey Kallman racing to close down her angle; Jami Kranich was able to parry away the shot.

At the same time, the defense was pretty good at choking off runs by Shea Groom and Frances Silva, maintaining awareness of their desire to split center defenders Kallman and Whitney Engen. Angela Salem did a good job in the middle of the park too, several times cutting off service to the forwards by forcing a turnover and restarting the Boston attack.

The first goal came in the 38’ from Katie Schoepfer, who had already had several tries from distance that all went into traffic. Not this time though; her first attempt was blocked, but she was given plenty of time to tee up the rebound shout and blasted the ball from outside the 18 into the net.

The Breakers had one more really quality chance in the half, this one from Dowie, who was sprung one-on-one with the last defender, cut inside her, and managed to get off a lovely lobbed shot that was destined for the top right corner before Nicole Barnhart leapt and deflected it away. Teams went into halftime at 1-0.

Boston came out just as strong in the second half, starting with a great stop from Kranich as she darted out to stop Shea Groom with a fantastic snatch and grab on the ground. Indeed, Kranich kept it up for a full 90 and had a better than workmanlike performance keeping her clean sheet.

Head coach Matt Beard started his substitutions in the 53’, bringing in the long-absent Kristie Mewis for Steph Verdoia. Mewis has been out dealing with a bad ankle sprain and finally got minutes again tonight. Although she at times looked like a player still finding her rhythm, she wasn’t that far off the mark and seemed okay staying more central instead of going into her old left midfield position.

Ratcliffe had more runs as she settled into the half, but Boston began giving way to Kansas City in the midfield and FCKC controlled a large chunk of the game, requiring some good clearances from the defense and a great deflection from Kranich in the 61’ on an O’Reilly close-range blast.

Boston’s second sub was in the 62’ with Kyah Simon coming for Ratcliffe. Simon joined Mewis and Dowie up top on the left and was able to help Boston start breaking out of FCKC control. In the 65’ Schillgard found King making an overlapping run and King curled a ball up for Mewis, who managed to deflect it into Simon’s path. Simon was just short of getting to a one-time touch, but she continued to help the team work their way into the top of FCKC’s box with good, tight passing. The team had patient possession all over the field, with long sequences of competent ball movement that would have been unheard of at the beginning of their season.

Boston’s third sub was in the 78’ with Ghoutia Karchouni making her debut for the team, coming in for Katie Schoepfer. She worked a lot of small balls through the midfield and found Mewis in the 81’. Mewis took a long range shot that pinged the crossbar; as the ball dropped there seemed to be confusion in the box as neither FCKC nor Dowie were able to quite get a handle on it, allowing Mewis to pounce on her own rebound and finish it to make it 2-0.

Boston held on for the remainder of the game, with a couple of great picks from Engen to stop FCKC rushes forward, including a break in 89’ that had FCKC going up with numbers. After five minutes of stoppage it was over, and Boston found themselves with their first away win of 2016 - their first away win since July 25, 2014, in fact.

With two wins in a row for the first time this season, their first away win in two years, and goals scored in four games in a row, it’s fair to say this is a new-look team. There could be setbacks as players have bad games or bounces just don’t go Boston’s way, but it’s become more and more apparent that Beard has adjusted his expectations from the beginning of the season and really grasped how deep in the hole this team was coming out of 2015. With some good signings who look like they’re integrating well with the team and a few wins under their belt, there’s now a reason for fans to actually have a new and interesting feeling: hope. Hope for a strong end to the season, hope for a 2017 that’s less about rebuilding and more about standing on a steadier foundation. Perhaps it took longer than expected, but considering many fans didn’t have expectations to begin with, this is fantastic progress.