Starting XI: Abby Smith, Julie King, Christen Westphal, Megan Oyster, Brooke Elby, Angela Salem, Morgan Andrews, Rosie White, Emilie Haavi, Natasha Dowie, Adriana Leon
It was almost a carbon copy of the Boston Breakers’ previous two games: down by two early, struggling to push out of the midfield and get a shot on goal. Except this time they went down by a third in the first half.
Things started out rough, with NC’s Hamilton bagging their first goal in the 3’, which is slightly better than when they gave up a goal literally in the first minute against the Thorns. Boston really struggled to put passes together for the first twenty minutes, though, and their inability to move the ball out of danger bit them again in the 13’ with a second from Hamilton, who scored off a corner kick.
There just wasn’t enough movement from Boston as they kept having to retreat instead of pressing forward, with passing lanes shriveling up and dying. Their best chances were either long balls probing from deep - over the top from Smith or trying to pierce the defense from Andrews or Dowie - or taking a swing at the balls popping loose from scrums in the box. The Breakers really could have used someone willing to take a shot; Andrews generally seems to be that player, but was usually sitting way too deep to take any pokes at the goal. Meanwhile, both Dowie and Leon were having to come back and dig the ball out so often that they couldn’t hit the ball in front of goal either.
The first real cross from the left came in the 31’ when Elby managed to put the ball near post, but it was easily gathered by NC’s GK Rowland. That it took Boston over 30 minutes to put in a real cross should tell you how much trouble they were having.
Calamity struck in the 38’. Boston had at least been probing forward here and there, but this time Abby Smith came racing off her line to win a ball and didn’t hit it clear, instead ricocheting it off an attacking NC player. She wasn’t able to get back to her line in time before Ashley hatch buried it in the net, making it 3-0 for the Courage.
Some redemption for Smith came in stoppage, as Boston’s defense coughed up a pass right across the face of goal. Smith immediately came at the NC player and deflected the shot away, blocking what looked like an almost-certain goal. And so the half ended at 3-0, with Boston looking disjointed and frustrated, although perhaps more by the sense that if they could just calibrate themselves correctly they could get that final pass through and run on, as opposed to a complete lack of ability to do so.
The second half was a little better for Boston. Andrews kept trying to feed her teammates, looking fairly alert in midfield for the opportunity to slot someone in, but the runs weren’t happening. Boston got a spark in the 57’ with Haavi out and Margaret Purce in. Purce was pretty active on the left when she entered, right away putting in a cross then earning a corner kick. But her efforts faded over time, and eventually ended more often than not with her surrounded by defenders as she searched for a passing channel.
Boston made their second sub in the 68’ with Salem off and Amanda Da Costa on. That left Morgan permanently deeper in the midfield and Da Costa under Dowie, trying to help control that midfield space behind her - “trying” being the operative word. While Boston had trouble gaining real control, a couple of times the Courage exploited the space behind the defense and balls for Hamilton had to be cut off in a hurry by Elby.
Leon hung tough for a lot of the game and her perseverance paid off in the 73’ when she hit a shot-cross that dropped far post, seeming to surprise Rowland and making it 3-1.
73' - #BOS Goal - @BostonBreakers' @LeonAdriana9 with a cross/shot that finds the inside of the far post. #NCvBOS— NWSL (@NWSL) June 18, 2017
3 - 1 pic.twitter.com/PcQu9D5Z8C
But Boston just didn’t seem to have any urgency to get another one after that. They made their final sub in the 82’ with Ifeoma Onumonu in for Leon, but didn’t really have any more chances. Andrews once again tried to pop the ball in for her teammates, but it was rough going from the offense. The ref whistled for full time with the score 3-1.
Of note, Rosie White picked up her fifth yellow card of the season in the 80’, which means she will serve an automatic one-game suspension. White will have to sit out Boston’s next game, also against the Courage, when they come to Jordan Field on June 24. That game will be yet another exercise in roster management with White and Lavelle out and Allysha Chapman either still out, or just coming off injury. The Breakers will have to get their defensive house in order as well as find ways to either get Andrews connecting with the forwards or releasing her more to push up and find space herself. They should be gelling as a unit this far into the season, but the constant injuries seem to be derailing them. We’ll see how much they adjust next Saturday.