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Breakers get it right with 1-0 win over Sky Blue FC

Matt Beard wanted to set the tone - consider it set.

Boston’s starting XI against Sky Blue FC
Amy Pearson

STARTING XI: Abby Smith, Allysha Chapman, Megan Oyster, Christen Westphal, Julie King, Angela Salem, Rosie White, Rose Lavelle, Tiffany Weimer, Adriana Leon, Natasha Dowie

The Boston Breakers opened at home today against Sky Blue FC after a 2-0 road loss against FC Kansas City.

The game opened up pretty well for Boston, who pressed for much of the first half. Adriana Leon and Julie King were working the overlap on the right while Allysha Chapman pushed on the left. Lavelle was more central this game, swapping with Rosie White, who contributed to a heavier right-side presence from Boston.

Natasha Dowie served as lone striker and was often called on to hold up play with her back to goal, though Boston was definitely probing over the top to see if they could hit Dowie in stride. Boston’s midfield was backstopped by a tough Angela Salem, who did well to keep her head up and control the center while coordinating with Lavelle.

Abby Smith did extremely well to keep the score level with several key saves, giving Boston the time to continue pressuring until finally Dowie found herself alone on the end of Sky Blue’s back line. Rose Lavelle was able to feed her the ball and she hoofed it in the back of the net in the 37’ to make it 1-0.

Boston had another great chance late in the half as Adriana Leon had the opportunity to cross the ball in front of goal, but Leon wasn’t quite on it. She worked hard in the game but still needs some tweaking to really get in tune with the rest of the offense.

The teams went into the second half with no subs, still at 1-0. Sky Blue did their best to target Kerr but Christen Westphal and Chapman clearly did their homework and tracked Kerr pretty closely. In the 54’ Tiffany Weimer was running into the same kind of space that Dowie exploited on her goal, but was called offside. Still, Boston pushed on the Sky Blue goal in waves, often working out of the back, either through Salem or Smith’s distribution.

Boston made their first sub in the 63’ with Weimer out for Midge Purce, who got to return to her natural position at forward after a tough start at right back against KC. After the game head coach Matt Beard said that in KC, usual RB Julie King wasn’t ready; but with her starting against SBFC, Purce was able to return to a front three behind Dowie as the nine and created tons of trouble for SBFC with her speed. In fact she banged a hard ball off the crossbar in the 66’ with some of her first touches of the game.

Boston’s second sub was in the 75’ with Amanda DaCosta in for Leon; DaCosta stayed higher than usual, leaving Lavelle paired a bit deeper with Salem. She too had some good attempts at piercing SBFC’s defense, though veteran CB Christie Pearce made it hard to navigate in front of the box.

Boston’s last sub was in the 82’ with Lavelle out for Morgan Andrews, who stayed with Salem and looked for some good balls. It was end-to-end action until the end, with Boston surging one moment and SBFC countering the next. Smith was sharp all the way, gathering free kicks and corners into her box.

The Breakers had the chance for a dagger in the 86’ as Rosie White was on a breakaway one-on-one with the keeper, but Kailen Sheridan made a great diving save to parry the ball away. The Breakers ended it 1-0 for their first win of the season and a nice win at home, which definitely will help to set the tone as Beard desired. It wasn’t just that they won - it was how they won.

Last week, the defense didn’t quite have it together and the offense had its chances, but didn’t put them away. This game showed improvement on both ends of the pitch. The defense especially pulled it together to keep an eye on attacking threat Sam Kerr, and Christen Westphal and Megan Oyster were much more cohesive and less prone to be split this time around. On top of that, this Boston offense was genuinely threatening for long stretches, and had they been tweaked into slightly better form, would have come away from this game up at least two, if not three goals.

“We showed a different side to our game today,” said Beard after the game. “I think [the team] was nervous going into the game last week.... Maybe that had something to do with us starting a little bit slow.”

Beard wasn’t overly effusive, citing things yet to work on, but he certainly had elements of his plan fall into place on the night. “The basics are there. The fundamentals are there,” he said.

“Feels great,” said goalscorer Dowie of the win. “It’s a huge [confidence boost.] It’s so important to get that first win of that season and to get the points on the board.” She was also complimentary of Lavelle’s vision on the assist, and of the offense’s ability to work together to produce some more scoring chances. “Hopefully it’s my first [goal] of many.”

And how did it feel to veteran Breakers defender Julie King, who has been with the team since the beginning of NWSL, and is now looking at brighter days ahead after some incredibly tough times? She cried after the final whistle. “I just said to the girls, thanks everybody for believing in what Matt wanted to do here, and coming here, because this was a long time coming for me and the girls who were here last year and really just the organization in general. I guess I was a little overwhelmed.” King said it all with a smile. “You gotta play well, and you gotta play hard, and you gotta play smart to win in this league, and we did that tonight.... I’m already so exited for next week. Let’s get going. I like this team.”