Starting XI: Smith, King, Oyster, Westphal, Chapman, Salem, Lavelle, White, Leon, Dowie, Purce
As the Boston Breakers returned to Jordan Field on a cooling Friday night, it was a battle not just with Portland, but with the strange wind making the ball pull up short or roll too far. Still, after about 10 minutes, the Breakers still managed to dig into the game and take control. They pulled the field as wide as possible, often looking to Allysha Chapman to combine at first with Midge Purce, and then with Adriana Leon as Leon and Purce switched sides of the field.
This did somewhat limit Rose Lavelle’s involvement on the ball; a lot of Boston’s control in the midfield was Angela Salem holding up play and resetting the tempo to help Boston build out of the back. Salem was helped by Christen Westphal, who formed a good team with Chapman not just in moving the ball out of their defensive third, but in closing off Thorns attempts to push into the 18.
Still, even though Boston was controlling the tempo in their half, they were still working on breaking free in Portland’s half of the field. Lavelle had a smart little tap on the ball in the 12’ that almost put Adriana Leon through, but Leon got wiped out by Adrianna Franch. Leon came away with a bloody lip that required her to leave the field of play for a few minutes, but she ultimately returned to action.
On the other side of the field, Midge Purce wasn’t quite keeping with the line of forwards, lagging a bit behind when the team broke forward. She worked her way into the game, though, and managed to put in a cross in the 31’ to Rosie White on the back post. White didn’t seem quite prepared for the ball, carried as it was by the wind, and couldn’t bring it down to her foot for a shot.
But then in the 38’ Boston’s pressure paid off as they took back the ball off a Portland throw in and Leon was able to create a little space for herself to put in the cross. Dowie was mostly alone on the back post and finished easily.
Abby Smith stayed sharp throughout the rest of the half, smothering every ball that entered the box, including yet another windblown ball that required her to punch instead of catch in stoppage. Boston entered halftime at 1-0.
They came out ablaze in the second half, almost immediately netting their second goal in the 48’ off of Dowie’s effort and White’s finish.
It was good to see from White, who made some mistakes during the game that might have cost Boston the opportunity to put a shot on frame. In the 52’, White was in, with Leon wide and Dowie making a great run into a passing channel. White put the ball to no one on the far post; she seemed to know how bad it was from the way she scrubbed both hands over her face.
Then in the 56’ the ref made a penalty call for handball by Oyster in the box. Nadia Nadim stepped up for Portland and put the penalty away hard and clean. Boston almost got a quick counter off the restart but Franch collected the ball before Lavelle could run onto it.
Lavelle was a bit isolated in the second half. Boston’s strategy of pulling the ball wide left Lavelle in space many times, sometimes swimming in it. Portland took the ball back to the middle, finding more space and more control in the midfield. They also disrupted Boston’s buildup play, first with a foul on Purce in the 61’, then with foul on Lavelle in the 68’. Both fouls resulted in yellow cards.
Abby Smith came up big again in the 74’, deflecting up a hard shot from point blank range then collecting the ball on the way down. Boston made its first sub the next minute, with Amanda Da Costa in for Leon. Boston made their second sub in the 81’ with Purce off for Ifeoma Onumonu. But the subs didn’t give Boston the momentum they needed; energy shifted towards Portland starting from the PK and then culminated in an equalizing goal in the 83’ as the Thorns found Nadim and she battled her way through the box to make it 2-2. Portland’s momentum continued to the final whistle; Boston seemed to be finishing out the game trying to preserve the tie rather than going for the winner.
“We wanted to have discipline in the wide areas because they were going long...every set play was going long,” said Beard after the game. He tried to structure the second half to deal with Lindsey Horan and Christine Sinclair and was for the most part successful, but the team just didn’t quite hold fast as the second half dwindled.
If there are any positives to be taken from this game, they are the same as their last against Chicago: rather than being disappointed in a loss, the team should be disappointed they didn’t win. They were clearly the better team in the first half and could have bagged at least one more goal from good buildup through either wing. But they didn’t, and will now have to go on the road to play Portland at home.
Boston vs Portland away will kick off on Saturday, May 27 at 10 PM ET.