After a rousing 3-0 away victory over the Washington Spirit this past weekend, Adriana Leon has been named the NWSL player of the week. She recorded a goal and an assist in that game and was generally anywhere the Breakers tried to push at the Spirit 18-yard box.
Leon has six goals and six assists for Boston in 23 games and is a fairly crucial starter in their lineup, but for all that, she remains a bit of an unsung hero. Her job this season has been mostly about punching hard along the flanks, usually the right side but with the flexibility to switch left midgame, and perhaps some of her misses in front of goal have weighed a bit more heavily than her connections. But when Leon is off the field, it’s as though a portion of Boston’s muscle has been excised and though the arm can function, it won’t exert nearly the same strength or coordination.
That Leon is capable of this kind of work was established early in the season when Boston picked up a 3-0 win over the Seattle Reign. Leon was once again everywhere with gutsy one-v-ones and beautiful touches to put in her teammates, a performance which earned her an early POTW award.
Consider that Leon once left NWSL in a cloud of uncertainty and came back after a stint in Zurich helped clear her head. Has she been scoring prodigiously this season? No. But has she quietly accumulated some respectable stats through her sheer hard work and tenaciousness in a Boston season riddled with misfortune? Absolutely yes. Leon’s pick for POTW pairs with nominations for both Abby Smith and Natasha Dowie for save and goal of the week respectively, a sign of their efforts to slowly, laboriously turn the ship.
If you watched Boston’s last home game against the Portland Thorns, you would have seen a team that is definitely capable of better results than what their #9 league ranking would imply. Of course, this doesn’t erase the fact that the Breakers attacking unit as a whole has had problems scoring. But consider that last season they had 14 goals all season, and 47 GA. In 2017 they have 21 goals for and 31 against, and they did it with a constantly rotating defense in an attempt to manage a neverending list of short- and long-term injuries.
Matt Beard was also candid in a postgame interview after Boston played Portland in which he said marquee striker Natasha Dowie got a bit burnt out midseason. “I’ve been quite honest with her,” he said. “The amount of games that she played in England, America, Australia, and then back here. You know, she came back here [peaky].”
So the team has its problems, but it also seems to have some solutions. Is there an argument to be made for a new coach next season? You can look at results and probably say yes there is. Even Beard himself would probably concede that there’s a case to be made for new blood. But there has been progress, and there have also been mitigating circumstances. (Will Breakers fans ever forgive Jill Ellis for Rose Lavelle’s hamstring injury? Check back in this time next year.)
Fans can look at the team’s spot on the table and say that’s the only thing that matters - that’s not unfair. And these player/goal/save of the week awards certainly aren’t definitive indicators of a turnaround; in this crazy league, nearly every team is capable of a wild flash-in-the-pan performance on any given weekend. But it’s not nothing, and that all three happened in the same week reflects the glimmers of promise this team shows. There’s things there to build on for next season. We’ll see if Beard is the one doing the building.
Should the Breakers replace Matt Beard in 2017?
This poll is closed
Yes - didn’t do enough
No - other factors mean he should come back next season