The Boston Breakers clearly remembered their last game against the Houston Dash, almost earning three points on the road but getting a goal called back after the referee perceived a handball in the box. After a lengthy weather delay, they came out of the gate pumped, dominating play for the first 20 minutes of the game. Interestingly, Matt Beard went with Katie Stengel as his highest forward, leaving usual striker Natasha Dowie on the bench.
Stengel faced some of the same problems as Dowie: when Boston wasn’t controlling the midfield, she was quite isolated. But for the first 20 minutes or so, Boston did a great job pulling Houston the width of the pitch and then putting crosses into the empty space. In fact, Midge Purce, working as the team’s right midfielder, sent in a very nice ball in the 7’ where Rosie White popped into space left open by a ballwatching defense. Her header was palmed over by Jane Campbell.
Adriana Leon was also often in front of goal with time and space to set up a shot and she’s surely regretting not convincingly putting away the ball in the 13’. Purce picked out Leon open on the far post, but face to face with Campbell, Leon blasted the ball hard and it ricocheted off the bottom of the crossbar, bouncing on the goal line but not over it.
Houston clawed their way back into the game with a 23’ goal from Nichelle Prince, taking the feed from Andressinha, shrugging off Allysha Chapman, and firing low and hard to make it 1-0. Boston couldn’t shut the barn door for the rest of the half with the horse already out. Even though they stayed fairly organized in their defense, compacting back into two lines of four, they couldn’t break out of their half with the same regularity as the beginning of the game. The end of the half saw Chapman hitting a long diagonal to Purce, which put them back into the attack again, but it only pulled Boston out of their defensive setup. Houston won the ball and picked out Rachel Daly, who went one on one with Megan Oyster. Oyster was fortunately able to stall her long enough for the defense to recover, and to Boston’s credit, they were defensively fairly tight, cutting off short balls looking to feed Houston’s runners. Teams went into halftime at 1-0.
Boston attempted to come back into the second half with more energy and it looked like they might manage it as Purce put an early low cross into the box, but from that point on it was mostly downhill on the offensive end.
Boston made its first sub in the 58’ with Tiffany Weimer on for Rosie White. Weimer managed a great feed into the box a few minutes later, but Purce’s shot deflected into Campbell’s hands.
Boston had a few patches of ball movement, switching fields to try and open up space and get away from Houston’s pressure. But Purce seemed to a fade as the half wore on, and possibly should have been subbed instead of Adriana Leon, with whom she switched fields to take the left side after the Weimer sub. But Purce was also being asked to come from deeper in the midfield in a very Rose-Lavelle-like attempt at connecting the defense and attack, with the problem being that for all her talents, Purce is not Lavelle. Too many runs ended in turnovers and quick transitions from Houston; in one of them Carli Lloyd spotted Abby Smith just off her line and opted to blast it at range. Smith had to get her fingertips to the ball to send it over the bar.
In the 72’ Ifeoma Onumonu came on for Leon, headed in at right forward. Boston started looking for longer and longer balls, trying to avoid pressure and maybe find Dowie’s feet to see if she could turn her defender and spring someone in. Houston turned them away each time, and each time the Boston defense had to quickly withdraw and pinch off either Daly or Janine Beckie. Boston kept losing the ball in the midfield any time they poked their head out of their shell, making it all the more regrettable that they didn’t capitalize on the chances they had in the first half. The game ended at 1-0 for Houston.
A performance like this would have been fairly commendable much earlier in the season, but we are now at the point where improvement must actually translate into results, instead of merely being better than before. This was very much a winnable game from Boston, and the lack of precision and ruthlessness in front of goal cost them three points.
We now enter a FIFA window, so teams are off while the US women’s national team competes in the four-team Tournament of Nations on the west coast. Boston will return to action on Friday, August 4 at 7 PM ET at Jordan Field against FC Kansas City.