The Breakers named a 25-player preseason roster on Wednesday, listing the team's usual suspects atop the press release: Heather O'Reilly, Kristie Mewis, Lianne Sanderson. Unfortunately, one familiar name did not make the list: defender Kia McNeill.
On Friday, the team announced the loss of McNeill, who elected to return to school and continue serving as an assistant coach with the Boston College Women's soccer team. The Breakers will retain McNeill's rights, though the Avon, Conn. native will not appear in a 2014 NWSL match. In her lone season with the Breakers, McNeill started 21 of 22 regular-season matches, logging 1,890 minutes.
The departure of McNeill, the second center back on our 2014 depth chart, creates a hole Head Coach Tom Durkin may struggle to fill. None of his remaining defenders--Chelsea Stewart, Bianca D'Agostino and Natasha Anasi--serve as central players, calling attention to the team's lack of defending depth.
How will Durkin cope with a suddenly glaring hole? Placing a reserve defender into the center back position seems like a short-term solution, let alone a significant liability. This time, Durkin must look elsewhere. The most qualified candidate appears to be defensive midfielder Kaylyn Kyle, who filled the same spot for the Seattle Reign during several makeshift roster appearances in 2013. Kyle's hole, then, would be occupied by veteran Joanna Lohman, an attack-minded player who made 21 starts last season. Although Lohman prefers to push forward and create behind a pair of forwards, the agile midfielder also possesses the ball with class, creating a suitable plan B.
Without question, McNeill's departure raises more questions than solutions. If Lohman does shift into the Starting XI (assuming she would occupy the bench before Kyle's defensive transition), the Breakers will enter the season with a shortage of proven central midfielders, forcing Durkin to test his rookies sooner than expected. Of course, we also cannot discount the possibility that Durkin & Co. will acquire a center back--or a defensive midfielder--to fill the void. But with just weeks remaining until 2014 kick off, his team will have to move quickly, scrambling to solidify another unexpected transition.
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