The Boston Breakers have been there for some big Seattle Reign milestones. They were Seattle’s first ever win, losing 1-2 at home in 2013. And now they’re Laura Harvey’s 100th game as Reign head coach in 2017. Fortunately for Boston, things didn’t turn out quite like that 2013 loss.
Things started off brightly for Boston. But Boston has had bright starts before, the team determined in fits and starts to try and be the first one out of the gate. Fullbacks Amanda Frisbie and Christen Westphal were both pushing and overlapping with Adriana Leon and Tiffany Weimer. But Seattle began to turn up the pressure and work their way into the half while Boston was a little too slow in the midfield (except for Angela Salem).
Boston clearly knew they had to keep Megan Rapinoe out of the 18 and kept a close watch on her, though she managed to slip their defenders here and there. Still, Boston at least kept Seattle out or were able to scramble back and cover enough, while Abby Smith’s sticky hands collected the balls that made it through. The problem was Boston not being able to transition well when they did regain control of the ball. They looked uncomfortable on Seattle’s bouncy turf, although a bounce did favor them in the 25’ as the ball landed well for Weimer, who ripped it and saw it parried wide by Haley Kopmeyer.
But Seattle’s constant pressure eventually forced one error too many out of Boston, as Rapinoe buzzed Megan Oyster, forcing a quick back pass that Abby Smith mishit, landing the ball at Nahomi Kawasumi’s feet. Kawasumi controlled it perfectly and laced it into the net from long range, making it 1-0 in the 32’.
Boston tried to respond with attacking pressure, searching for Natasha Dowie. Dowie was isolated for long swathes in the half, often having to hold up the play to allow for everyone else to come up level with her. But in the 43’ Boston finally capitalized on some good ball movement as they played it quickly out of deep, Westphal hitting a laser-sharp cross into the box, where Leon absolutely hammered it one-time past Kopmeyer to equalize in the 43’. Teams went into halftime at 1-1.
The second half started off in a hurry, Seattle looking to get the ball going. Abby Smith had to make a double save in the 47’ with a punch and touch from her fingertips. But Boston came back fairly strong, improving on their first half performance and really working hard to neutralize Rapinoe. Seattle started to drift a little more to the right, trying to test Amanda Frisbie, but Boston held up there as well.
Westphal continued to threaten into space, taking the ball deep on the right and looking for the cross. Rosie White was getting into space too, really helping to stretch Seattle while they looked for quick balls to set up a shot. The problem was the actual shot - there weren’t a lot of takers in the box, limiting Boston to looks from distance.
But at least Boston settled down and Seattle, unable to keep up the pace of extreme pressure, didn’t run them off the ball as much. Boston was able to pull Seattle back into their third even more when they made their first sub in the 69’, sending in Margaret Purce for Weimer. Purce initially entered as a right forward, but as Beard has asked of all his wide attackers, she switched off and began piercing the defense on the left.
Beard was forced to make another quick sub in the 71’ with Brooke Elby on for Westphal, who might have needed to come off with an injury. Elby was up to the task, fighting hard defensively to choke off any attempt to let Rapinoe get on the ball.
There was a touch-and-go moment in the 74’ as Frisbie pulled up with a calf cramp, but she came back on the field. Boston really can’t afford more defensive injuries at the moment so it was good to see Frisbie return and finish out the game.
Boston had probably one of their better chances in the 80’ as the attack swarmed Seattle’s 18, but after roughly one thousand short passes, no one was willing to shoot into traffic or attempt to turn and Seattle cleared it out.
Boston’s last sub was in the 80’ as Katie Stengel came on for Dowie. Stengel’s fresh legs did make a bit of difference, especially paired with Purce. Stengel looked willing to shoot and to take on in one-v-one and even one-v-two situations, and with a little more time might have gotten on target. But despite Boston pouring on pressure in the last 10 minutes, they were unable to get a head or foot on the ball in a decisive fashion.
The game finished 1 - 1, but given how hard Boston was pushing at the end, the team might be disappointed not to have taken all three points. That’s a very good thing; shutting down not just Megan Rapinoe but also covering Beverly Yanez and Nahomi Kawasumi isn’t to be taken lightly for a team that has traditionally struggled with defense. Boston’s back line has its issues, but it’s no longer a porous mistake waiting to happen. Westphal especially has seemed to kick last season to the curb, stepping up for Boston this season as a versatile defender who can switch between center and right back as needed.
And for all that their 80’ pinball session was frustrating as hell with no shot on goal to show for it, it does demonstrate an increased level of trust and comfort among the attackers. If they can actually continue building on that, then this game should be remembered as a bit of a turning point for Boston. They’ve shown that they can be dangerous at home and now on the road as well. Now someone just needs to shoot the dang ball.