As we come to the close of the 2017 NWSL season, there’s a lot to contemplate about the Boston Breakers. They have three games left and are currently on a four-game losing streak with a 3-11-7 record for 9th place overall. They’ve had injuries galore, including the hamstring injury that derailed Rose Lavelle’s rookie season and forced the team to rearrange the rest of their season. They’ve had players retire or depart and they’ve had players who should have had better seasons and players that did have better seasons. They generally improved over last season, but were critically weak in the striker position despite loading the team more towards the attack. And now they face the #2 Portland Thorns, who are coming off a hot three-game win streak and want to secure a home playoff spot for the semifinals.
First, the good news for Boston. The injury report is mostly clear, with only Christen Westphal still out due to right foot nerve damage. Morgan Andrews is also out, but with an excused absence as she finishes her degree at USC. The rest of the defense - namely Allysha Chapman and Brooke Elby - appear to be better physically, and Rose Lavelle will probably get a solid 30 minutes or a half this game.
Meanwhile, Portland is still out Tobin Heath, who has a back sprain, and is joined by Tyler Lussi and Ashleigh Sykes. (That low buzz you hear in the distance is USWNT fans going “hmmm” over Heath still not being well enough to even go near the field for the Thorns, but still being called up for WNT friendlies against New Zealand on the 15th and 19th.)
Now the semi-bad news: Boston’s main problem has been scoring and it’s not certain the return of Lavelle will help them sort that out for Portland. Yes, they’ve also dealt with a constantly shifting back line, but now with only Westphal out, that gives them a little more breathing room defensively and allows them a little more continuity between back lines, especially now with Midge Purce seeming to have transitioned to right back.
Last game against Orlando, they came out in a 5-4-1, which Matt Beard may try again with Portland. But when Lavelle came into the Orlando game, she very much looked someone returning from a long convalescence, and it’s probably too much to ask her to be an in-form game changer in her second game back, and against Portland to boot. Portland’s midfield is arguably just as if not more difficult to deal with than Orlando’s, depending on the kind of day Amandine Henry and Lindsey Horan are having. Horan has to be stifled, prevented from punching her way up from box to box. But even if you control Horan, Portland still has the option of dropping Christine Sinclair into a 10 role, where she has proven adept at reading the play and putting in teammates, or taking the opportunity to arrive late and finish a ball in the box.
On the other end of the field, Boston really needs Ifeoma Onumonu to refine her finish. She and Adriana Leon have worked out a decent parternship, but Onumonu’s finishing is definitely lacking. If she can sharpen up in front of goal, she could really pose a challenge to Portland’s defense and to goalkeeper Adrianna Franch. Now with Lavelle behind her as well, able to open up defenses with her passing, we’ll see a) if she get more looks at the net and b) if she takes advantage of them.
Boston Breakers vs Portland Thorns kicks off at 6 PM ET on Sunday, September 10. It will stream life on go90 and NWSLSoccer.com.