As the rest of the league pushes onward, and looks to build on early-season results, the Breakers stand two steps behind, still waiting at the starting gate. A daunting 0-3 loss in Seattle led way to a devastating 2-3 collapse at home, leaving Tom Durkin's crew in an 0-2 hole. And though the offense found its stride in week two, the defense has struggled mightily, surrendering six goals in two matches. With necessary changes ahead, we see one glaring trend: Courtney Jones needs more time to mature into a central defensive role.
At times, Jones shined during her team's season-opening loss, tracking back with pace and recovering well on defense. Her willingness to fill the center back void in the first place--and move away from her preferred attacking spot--speaks volumes about her character and versatile skillset. And we admit that we have a soft spot for the well-spoken, warm defender. But unfortunately, after two weeks of inconsistent play, Tom Durkin and co. may need to re-evaluate her role along the back line.
In week one, the problem seemed fairly obvious: Jones just didn't appear comfortable. The second half of the Breakers' loss to Seattle highlighted this issue, when Jones challenged a cross by extending her foot, only to have the ball deflect off her hand for a late-match penalty. Seattle midfielder Kim Little calmly finished from the spot. In week two, Jones' comfort level only seemed to decrease. She suffered from poor positioning and absent-minded marking, and played a role in all three Houston goals. In the 85th minute of Sunday's loss, Jones extended for the ball and inadvertently committed a reckless foul, eventually conceding the game-winning tally on a second penalty kick. In two matches, Jones has surrendered two goals from the spot, a testament to her daunting start to the 2014 season.
What can be done to rectify Boston's center back troubles? We offer three solutions, just in time for a week three matchup with rival Sky Blue F.C.
1. Practice Patience
In theory, Jones' skillset should transfer to the center back position quite well. The natural attacker complements her speed with tough, physical, gritty play, and typically excels in the air. So, what has gone wrong? Jones just may need a bit more time to absorb the intricacies of the position, especially those that take place inside the 18. Do the Breakers have time to wait?
2. Call on Kaylyn Kyle
When Kia McNeil departed in March, we called for Kaylyn Kyle to drop into the CB position, occupying a role she filled part-time in 2013. Unfortunately, Kyle struggled throughout the preseason, and turned in a soft season opener. She played a more assertive match on Sunday, though she did little to slow down the team's late collapse. Kyle may represent the only starter-worthy candidate to fill Jones' role.
3. Head for the Bench
The relatively shallow Breakers bench sports a pair of capable defenders. Chelsea Stewart, who has appeared as a center back for the Canadian National Team, would likely represent option one; recently-signed midfielder Ashley Grove, who also has experience in a defensive role, would likely represent option two. Option three may not exist. Inserting Stewart seems more realistic short-term, as Grove entered the 2014 season with just 19 minutes of NWSL experience to her name.
What do you think about the state of Boston's back line? Continue the conversation below.