The Boston Breakers finished their second season in a row at the bottom of the table. It was bad.
11 points out of 20 games, 3-15-2 record, -33 goal differential. They had the worst GD in the league by 23 goals. They got blown out by four goals or more four times, three of those times thanks to the Western New York Flash.
NWSL just released some season-end stats, and those add to the generally dreary picture of the 2016 Boston season.
- 2.35 goals against average, “a new NWSL record for the worst GAA”
- 6 consecutive games without a goal, a feat which the eighth-place Houston Dash also achieved
- 9 shutouts, tied with FCKC for most in the league
- 12 consecutive away losses, dating back to 2014
- 32 consecutive away games without a shutout, dating back to 2013, 19 games longer than any other club in NWSL
- 937 minutes spent trailing, 238 more than any other team in the league
- 52% of the season spent trailing
Those are all really, really bad stats. They should not be glossed over as the team closes the chapter on 2016 and begins preparation for 2017. But they need a sprinkling of context.
Boston’s season really needs to be divided into half. The first half of the season wasn’t even rebuilding; it was basically clearing out the rubble from the controlled demolition blasts taking out the last of 2015. Matt Beard said multiple times during the first half of the season one of his challenges was getting the team to even believe that they could win again. Combine that with going into the season already down an expected key player in Sinead Farrelly, who had to sit out due to complications from a pre-existing injury, and of course it was going to be a rocky start.
Farrelly wasn’t the limit of their roster woes; they also got hit by the injury bug with Abby Smith, who played less than two full games but looked like she was going to be a difference-maker, while at the same time their other keeper Libby Stout was dealing with injury. They had to re-sign Jami Kranich, who to her credit stepped back in with nary a fuss and gave team some big performances. Kristie Mewis was also out long term with injury, and then McCall Zerboni was unhappy enough that she had to be traded to the WNY Flash.
So the pit was much deeper than Beard figured it was coming into the job and he had to get an accurate read on how far down the hole went before he could measure a rope to climb out.
In the first half of the season, the Breakers went 1-8-1 with three goals for and 22 against, and they were shut out of seven of 10 games.
In the second half of the season, the Breakers went 2-7-1 with 11 goals for and 25 against, and they were shut out of two of 10 games.
Nearly three times as many goals in the back half of the season, and they scored eight games in a row after getting shut out of nearly every game in the top half. That’s a demonstrable difference.
Sure, they won against Orlando and FC Kansas City, both teams who were struggling for various reasons this season. They also had a bad patch near the end of the season when they were on an infernal zigzag home-and-away stretch of five games in 15 days that accounted for 14 of those 25 goals against in the second half of the season. But you can clearly see a line between a team that was just trying to keep their heads above water to a team that was maybe starting to figure out that if they doggy paddled, they could make it to the shoreline.
A large part of that was of course the introduction of Natasha Dowie, but her success shows that the team is a) capable of grabbing a top talent and b) then using her correctly. Dowie has bought Matt Beard the time he needs to search for more players he can bring in as real pillars to build around as opposed to those patching over roster holes.
Beard also has had time to research the NCAA and will actually have a hand in the draft for 2017, which should hopefully create a more cohesive roster.
None of this is to say that Beard has unlimited chances. If the team doesn’t continue to demonstrate real improvement through 2017, then the writing is on the wall and the revolving door of coaches continues. But there has been progress, if you dig a little bit under the surface of the numbers. Boston won’t be stuck at the bottom of the pit forever.