STARTING XI: Jami Kranich, Brooke Elby, Kassey Kallman, Whitney Engen, Christen Westphal, Ghoutia Karchouni, Angela Salem, Kristie Mewis, Brittany Ratcliffe, Natasha Dowie, Louise Schillgard
There was some excitement leading into Boston’s first home game after the Olympic break. They were coming off, if not a hot streak, then a moderately warm one, and they’d just had a pretty thorough performance against one-time NWSL champions FC Kansas City. For their part the Dash were struggling and so even though it was a bottom of the table clash, one team was on an upswing and the other was trying to tread water.
Houston clearly didn’t get the memo, because they stepped onto Jordan Field and proceeded to dominate the Breakers for a full 90 minutes. In the match preview for this game, I said regardless of the result, the two things to really watch for in measuring the progress of this team were maintaining good passing and not panicking if they went down a goal. The team failed on both counts.
Boston didn’t even really have 10 or 15 minutes here or there where they were looking better and like they might get one back. They conceded an early goal in the 3’ when Kealia Ohai shot from a very sharp angle over Jami Kranich’s head and just looked down from that point on.
It was a bad sign when Beard made an early sub in the 29’ with Kyle Strom coming in for Christen Westphal. Westphal struggled for half an hour, unable to quite handle Becca Moros’ physicality and not getting enough of the ball to really help them push up the right flank. She was wincing when she came off though, so perhaps she picked up an injury that required a sub. Strom went in at left back and Elby switched over to the right.
Houston scored their second goal in the 33’ from Ohai again, who got served a good ball on a fast break and carried it out of her own half to make a low, swerving shot that flew past Kranich’s outstretched hand. That made it 2-0 and that’s how the teams went into halftime.
Ohai nearly made it a hat trick in the 52’, beating Elby with speed and shooting past Kranich, only to see the ball ding off the post. Houston had the majority of the ball from that point on and made it 3-0 ten minutes later in the 62’ when Carli Lloyd saw Kranich off her line, as she had been so many times that night, and chipped her from distance.
Boston made a sub in the same minute with Kyah Simon in for Louise Schillgard; Simon went into a left attacking position, which shifted Ratcliffe right. The third sub was in the 71’ with Stephanie Verdoia in for Karchouni; Karchouni had been struggling for some minutes after getting bowled over, which is essentially the standard American welcome for all European players who venture into NWSL.
Eventually the Breakers managed to get a consolation goal in stoppage through Dowie, who was hungry all night but either lacked the service or didn’t manage to a good foot on her rare opportunities with the ball facing goal. It was a good job from Simon to hold on to the ball surrounded by three defenders and pick out Dowie making her run into the box. Dowie finished nicely into the corner to make it 3-1.
It was not a great team performance. From turnovers all over the pitch to not stepping to balls to giving players like Lloyd too much room to maneuver, it was sloppy and unfocused. Besides her goal, Dowie had a couple of fast breaks and the team tried to get her the ball, although those attempts faded as the game wore on. Karchouni started out looking comfortable on the ball and made some good short connections in the midfield, but also faded as the half went on, and needed to be making snap passes sooner as well as stepping to more players. Brittany Ratcliffe was a non-factor in the first half, picked up a little spark in the second half, and then faded again. Kristie Mewis tried to feed Dowie a few times and tried to hold the ball patiently in and around the box but found no good targets. Jami Kranich did not have a good night and had to get bailed out by a defender with a goal-line clearance twice.
On one of a few slightly positive notes, Angela Salem seems to have stepped up her game recently. She was a consistently serviceable defensive mid for most of the season, but in Kansas City and against the Dash looked much sharper and more threatening.
After the game, Beard was clearly frustrated. “The performance wasn’t good enough. From start to finish, just got the basics wrong,” he said. “We didn’t deserve to win the game. It could have been a five, six game to them with the way that we defended tonight. It’s frustrating from my end because we’ve made so much progress and done so well in certain areas of the game. I’m not stupid, I’m not naive, I know we need to strengthen the team, I know we need to bring more experienced players in.”
Beard cited lack of pressure, lack of good passing, and lack of shape as big factors in the loss. There were certainly huge gaps between the lines for Boston as the midfielders time and again didn’t press up with the forwards, leaving a lot of room for Houston to work and take space. Beard refused to accept that there might have been mitigating factors in the performance though, whether it was the quick turnaround from playing the extreme heat in Kansas City to trying to get some newer or newly-returned players into his starting XI.
“[Houston] played the night before [on August 27] and they’ve had to travel to here, so there’s no excuses on that front,” he said. “I’ve started to see the corner turn, I’ve started to see a little bit of progress from what we’re doing, and I can’t defend some of the things that happened tonight. I can’t come in here and say, oh, I’m gonna blame Kansas because it was so hot. We can’t keep blaming certain situations. It’s just doing your jobs.”
Dowie was similarly stern. “For me you can use the excuse of it was a hot game and it’s traveling, but then that’s when we have to use our heads,” she said. “And we have to have more leaders out on the pitch. Like when we did concede early, for me it’s not enough people taking on that leadership role and seeing our reactions. We’re feeling sorry for ourselves. We still had 88 minutes left to try and get back into the game.”
“We’re not gonna just win games because at the minute we’re on a good little run. You have to earn the right to win a match.”
Boston has four games remaining this season, with both home games against the WNY Flash. They’ll next play the Portland Thorns away on Sunday, September 4 at 7 PM ET.