After saying goodbye to Head Coach Lisa Cole over a week-and-a-half ago, interim coach and current center back Cat Whitehill took the reins of Boston's storied soccer franchise. Through three matches, Whitehill has directed her team into an encouraging 2-0-1 run, earning wins over playoff-bound sides Portland and FC Kansas City. The Breakers remain mum on the Cole firing - no true details have been released - though Whitehill's emergence as a captain, leader and defensive anchor has the NWSL world carefully tracking the suddenly admirable Breakers.
Following Wednesday's come-from-behind victory over third-place Portland, Whitehill provided the captain's side of her team's recent restructuring.
"There's a lot of pressure as coach now," Whitehill began. "But I have a lot of respect for Lisa, and we were obviously sad to see her go. We were down before, because we knew we were a long shot to get into the playoffs, but when it happened, a lot of people were shocked, and a lot of people were sad. Lisa was a very good player coach, where she had good relationship with most people on the team. But this is a business; that's what happens when you're in sixth place."
Whitehill's relationship with Cole, from an outsider's perspective, seemed to accurately reflect the veteran's words. On the field, the pair showcased a mutual understanding that seemed deeper than simply a player-coach connection; the respect shown in post-game interviews made media members believe Cole and Whitehill shared considerable chemistry. But yet, when it came down to it, Cole simply failed to "get the job done." Whitehill's success only perpetuates this concept.
Through 27 matches riddled by inconsistency, Cole's side achieved a mediocre 6-7-5 record. A 3-0 embarrassment at the hands of FC Kansas City may have served as the final straw for Boston's front office, though the experienced coach stayed in town for a 5-2 win over Washington. Still in the playoff hunt - though needing a complex scenario to claim the final playoff spot - the Breakers fired Cole and turned to Whitehill.
"I told the team, ‘ask whatever questions you want now,'" Whitehill continued. "We had GM Lee Billiard with us to answer questions, and I told them ‘you get out what you need to get out now. As soon as we come out of the locker room, and step onto that field, there's no more questions; you don't question me, you don't question the leadership.'"
The Breakers capped Wednesday's 2-1 victory with a 1-0 shutout of first-place FC Kansas City, momentarily denying the visitors a pass for home-field advantage throughout the NWSL playoffs.
"This is a professional organization," Whitehill added. "When we step onto the soccer field, we are soccer players, and were here to win. It's been amazing - everybody on this team has been absolutely amazing."
Since moving into her new role on August 2, Whitehill has conducted her team with resilience. Back-to-back gritty wins have many supporters wondering if the player coach will become a permanent sideline fixture, instilling the winning drive that Cole seemingly failed to deliver. On Wednesday, Whitehill shrugged off the notion.
"I think I'm short term for right now," the center back concluded. "But one day, I would like to coach at this level; I love this kind of fire and intensity, and these high-level competitive athletes...Right now, I'm just a player, and I want to keep this team improving. We have two games left, and even though were not in it, we still have something to prove."
Regardless of Whitehill's 2014 status, the player coach will enter Saturday's season finale in search of a fourth consecutive result. If she accomplishes her task - and sends the Breakers into the offseason with a 3-0-1 mark - expect memories of Lisa Cole to fade into the distance. Cat Whitehill may be here to stay.
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