The Breakers scrapped back against the Washington Spirit to gain a point on the road this past weekend in a 2-2 draw, but they have yet to win on the road this season. So it’s more important than ever that they preserve a sense of possibility when playing at home by getting a result against Houston.
First things first, Carli Lloyd is probably out for this game. She landed awkwardly on her left ankle in the Dash’s last game against FC Kansas City and had to be subbed out in the first half. As of this writing, the Dash have only said Lloyd will be evaluated day-to-day after her x-rays came back negative, but her instagram shows her in a walking boot.
That’s a blow for the Houston midfield, which generally looks better with Lloyd than without, and on top of the loss of Morgan Brian, whose groin injury has her rehabbing with USSF staff instead of trying to manage minutes with Houston.
But Boston has lost a player too, with the team waiving Emilie Haavi, citing “homesickness” along with a general inability to get settled in Boston. Haavi has had a rough season, starting with a broken jaw in preseason that only let her play a handful of games before she had to leave for the Euros. Then when she returned, she was still only getting intermittent minutes. So now Matt Beard will probably be looking to Tiffany Weimer to continue her starting role on the left, juggling some combination of her, Adriana Leon, and Ifeoma Onumonu on the left and right.
That juggling act also depends on the health of the defense. With Christen Westphal and Brooke Elby out for the last game and Julie King feeling some wear and tear, Midge Purce was called upon to fill in at right back. As befits her normal role as a forward, she always looked more comfortable attacking with the ball. Houston is vulnerable on their right as Poliana leaves room behind her, but left-side presence Allysha Chapman is also out with injury for this game after playing at less than 100% last game, leaving Boston without her ability to quickly combine the ball into space with someone like Weimer or Leon. That probably means a start for Amanda Frisbie on the left, which would keep King central with Megan Oyster.
Alternately, with Lloyd out, against FCKC, Houston often resorted to trying to pull the field wide, avoiding KC’s stronger midfield pairing of Desiree Scott and Christina Gibbons. Boston also has a fairly strong midfield pairing with Angela Salem and Morgan Andrews who could help control the ball there, although if Andressinha gets into the space between midfield and defensive lines, then Houston is capable of immediately putting three runners through the back line between Nichelle Prince, Rachel Daly, and Janine Beckie. And with Boston’s back line so vulnerable, it really behooves them to stay calm and maintain solid possession. FCKC was often able to recycle out of the back to hold off Houston and set up for the next push, but their back line is in much better shape than Boston’s, with a consistent CB pairing in front of a goalkeeper who hasn’t been in and out of the team due to injury or national duty. Beard also has to be thinking about roster rotation, since Boston plays again three days later on the 19th against the Orlando Pride, who are running riot over other teams with Marta and Alex Morgan on a hot streak.
So once again much rests on the shoulders of the offense. Whether Beard starts Katie Stengel or Natasha Dowie as his 9, they’ll no doubt have it especially on their mind that they are the first defender. And perhaps Stengel/Dowie, combined with Andrews and Rosie White, creating a high pressure zone in front of the 18 will either result in a goal or give Leon more space to operate. This team should have more goals, and is certainly capable of scoring them. We’ll see whether they boldly apply high pressure or withdraw to make a shell around their wounded defense.
Boston Breakers vs Houston Dash kicks off at 7:30 PM ET on Wednesday, August 16 at Jordan Field. It will stream live on NWSLSoccer.com and go90.