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Match preview: Boston Breakers vs WNY Flash has huge playoff implications

Boston will help decide who the fourth NWSL playoff team will be

breakers vs wny flash

UPDATED: Louise Schillgard is out with illness for this game.

This one’s for all the marbles, kiddos.

Well, not for Boston. But for the Western New York Flash, points against Boston would be vital in preserving their fourth-place finish and playoff spot.

WNY currently sits at 29 points, with the Seattle Reign at 27 points. If Seattle beats the Houston Dash (last season that would have been all but assured, but this season ???), and Boston beats the Flash, then Seattle will move up into fourth.

So: Boston must win. Seattle must win. If either part of that equation fails, WNY is going to the playoffs and last year’s championship contender Seattle will go home.

No pressure or anything, Boston, but the eyes of Seattle now turn towards the east coast.

Boston wants to win this game regardless of who does or doesn’t go to the playoffs. It would be nice to end the season on a high note, and at home in front of what is shaping up to be a near-sellout crowd.

Can they actually do it? The team is a mixed bag right now, slowly turning the ship away from the iceberg and towards something like hope for 2017. They’ve done quite a lot of it on the back of Natasha Dowie, who injected life and goals into the attack. Despite being a late addition, Dowie is now the team’s leading scorer with three goals in six games and the overall leader in shots on goal, and if that statistic sounds a bit bleak, then clearly you weren’t paying attention in the first half of the season.

The defense has also had to adapt itself a couple times, first as it was partially gutted through trades at the beginning of the season, then through the season-ending injury of Abby Smith, then while Whitney Engen was gone for the Olympics, and again through the retirement of Mollie Pathman. They’re kind of-sort of clicking again and Julie King is back after sitting out a game due to yellow card accumulation, but on the flipside Whitney Engen may not be at full strength. She had to sub out of last weekend’s national team game against the Netherlands early with a hamstring issue that’s been bugging her for weeks.

There’s also the issue of handling WNY’s speed, which will limit the fullbacks’ ability to push up. Last time these two teams played, a 2-2 tie, both Jess McDonald and Lynn Williams punished Boston with speed. WNY can play in both of them with long balls, knowing either one can take off like a shot. Winning those midfield battles to cut off service to both of them is crucial.

At the other end of the field, if Louise Schillgard is on her game and Tasha Dowie can get catch just one good bounce on the ball, Boston will be good for at least a goal. Schillgard has adapted to NWSL pretty well over the season and is certainly capable of that one incisive pass that shifts the flow of a game. It could be interesting if another forward like Brittany Ratcliffe can get in there; Ratcliffe has also grown over the season and is capable of peeling off a defender to get into the box, but she also sometimes disappears into games.

Odds are probably good Boston will at least get on the scoreboard here; it just needs a healthy Engen and Kassey Kallman with her head in the game, plus the fullbacks to not get caught out. That not giving up goals is the bigger key rather than the scoring for this game. It might even call for a three-back, playing five on the defense but shifting to three going forward, so that the team can stay fairly strong in case of a quick counter but give those fullbacks moving up and down more room to push forward. We’ll see; it could depend on Julie King being healthy.

Of note, if Katie Schoepfer plays in this game, that will make her 100th cap for the Breakers.

Boston vs WNY kicks off at 7 PM ET on Saturday, September 24. It will stream live on NWSL’s youtube channel.