STARTING XI: Libby Stout, Brooke Elby, Whitney Engen, Kassey Kallman, Kylie Strom, Angela Salem, Katie Schoepfer, Kristie Mewis, Kyah Simon, Natasha Dowie, Eunice Beckmann
Well. That happened.
That’s really all there is to say about the last Breakers game of the season, which had actual playoff implications. Had Boston won this game, the Seattle Reign would have still had a shot at playoffs. As it is, the loss cements WNY’s place in the semifinals.
One could mention the abysmal reffing, always a staple of NWSL games courtesy of PRO.
Then there was Boston’s inability to solve Western New York’s pressure in the midfield, leaving Natasha Dowie isolated on an island for the first half and large swathes of the second half.
Boston definitely suffered from a lack of Louise Schillgard in the midfield. Kristie Mewis was no replacement for Schillgard’s deft touch and vision, and though Angela Salem did her best to control the tempo in the midfield, WNY won far too many balls and kept the Breakers penned into their own half for huge chunks of time.
WNY racked up three goals in the first half, the first one in the 2’. Too many WNY players were roaming in the box, and Libby Stout pulled off a number of saves throughout the game to at least keep the scoreline from becoming too gaudy.
The second goal was a bit of a farce; no one really seemed to know what happened, as the ref blew the whistle and left the Boston defense completely confused as to what was happening and why the goal wasn’t being called back.
Then the third came in the 44’ off a Samantha Mewis header, no surprise as WNY was dominating aerial battles in Boston’s 18.
The fourth goal was a penalty kick from Abby Dahlkemper, nicely placed past Libby Stout.
Boston made all three of its subs in the scond half. In the 54’ Julie King came in for Kylie Strom, which pushed Brooke Elby from right to left, while King took up her post on the right side. Brittany Ratcliffe came in for Eunice Beckmann in the 76’ and Stephanie Verdoia came in for Katie Schoepfer in the 79’. Ratcliffe went in at right forward and Verdoia was a like-for-like sub, replacing Shep as Salem’s partner in the deeper midfield.
None of it really helped. Boston did slightly better in the second half trying to find Natasha Dowie and the defense did their best keeping track of Jess McDonald and Lynn Williams; several times they caught McDonald offside. Kassey Kallman was particularly vigilant, staying on Williams on every potential breakaway. But that second goal from WNY, awarded in confusion by the ref, seemed to really sap the Breakers’ game plan. Instead of trying to make up a one goal game, a scoreline that could have easily meant nothing with 43 minutes left to play, they were down two and chasing a deficit.
“I’m frustrated because we’ve worked well this week and then we just didn’t perform,” said head coach Matt Beard after the game. “Obviously we finished bottom of the league, and New York had something to play for tonight and of course we didn’t so they had extra motivation but we still need to be professional.... It’s not acceptable.”
“It’s been tough,” said Whitney Engen. “We haven’t had really a cohesive line.... I missed the Houston game with injury. I’ve been out of training all week. We lost Julie King. I think that as dismantled as we were coming into the game, we did pretty well.” Engen was clearly disappointed in the result and both she and Beard were downcast during the post-game presser. It was obvious they wanted a different result to end the year. But at the same time, Engen had a point; she played 90 minutes while not completely healthy and the Breakers were also missing a healthy Julie King and Louise Schillgard was out with illness. The roster simply wasn’t able to absorb all these hits and the team paid for it.
So now what? Beard will have plenty of time between seasons to really take a look at the landscape and plan his moves, whether that’s searching for international players willing to come to a last-place team or scouting draft picks or trying to find leverage for trades. There will certainly be some roster turnover. There were some glimmers of what Beard is trying to accomplish with the team, such as when the midfield managed tight triangular passing to quickly move the ball out of pressure, followed by a look at an open player making a run.
Fans should expect Beard to shake the etch-a-sketch hard between 2016 and 2017. In the meantime, we made it through another season, Breakers fans. Don’t lose hope. Change is coming.