The Boston Breakers are climbing out of the hole. There's daylight on the horizon. Beat top-ranked Chicago and the rest of the season looks that much less grim. It's no guarantee, of course, but after taking points off Chicago already with a tie away from home, finishing the job with a win at Soldiers Field would really set the tone for the back stretch of the season.
Chicago goes into this game with 22 points and 6-1-4 record; Boston with 12 points and 3-6-3 record. If Boston wins, they go from eighth to sixth, Chicago drops into second behind the Reign, and three points will separate the Breakers from the bottom of the playoff contention list. Yes, it's still that tight.
So what to look for from Chicago:
Christen Press: She's back, she's had some rest, and she's probably ready to build on the three goals in three games she already scored for Chicago. Boston's defense will need to keep tight in order to prevent her from running behind or splitting them to find a through ball.
Sofia Huerta: While Press was away, Huerta has racked up six goals and three assists in 11 games, putting her firmly in contention for rookie of the year.
Danielle Colaprico and Vanessa DiBernardo: It's fun times in the midfield with these two. Coach Durkin might choose to deploy his midfield triangle of Bia, Amy Barczuk, and Katie Schoepfer again to try to keep the midfield contained; it just remains to be seen if they can do that and let Schoepfer get forward as well. Durkin could also turn to Maddy Evans to get stuck in and disrupt play in the mid, or he might return her to the right flank. Evans' role this season seems to be that of hard-nosed utility player, tirelessly working wherever she's asked to go on the field.
Julie Johnston: After a World Cup spent beasting under the tutelage of Becky Sauerbrunn, Julie Johnston is back to ruin forwards' lives. She can get up the field too, and poses legitimate threat on set pieces.
Taryn Hemmings: The former Breaker has done well for herself in Chicago with a goal and assist to her name this season, racking up eight shots in addition to her defensive duties. She'll help Chicago move the ball up and down the flanks and will look to push it into the box. Both Kristie Mewis and Mollie Pathman will be looking to get around her.
On Boston's end, they have to find Kyah Simon with more frequency. Either set her up for a shot, or get her into dangerous situations that draw some of the heat off of Kristie Mewis and Stephanie McCaffrey, leaving them with space to shoot. That could mean occasionally dropping Simon deeper into the mid where she can playmake a little bit, something she's certainly capable of doing. A good hard press with Mewis, McCaffrey, and Simon all moving the ball around with either Rafinha or Schoepfer behind them could yield early benefits, but they'll need to be careful not to get caught on the counter, not with Press and Huerta hunting.
Boston also has to finish on their set pieces. Kristie Mewis has been sending in decent service and Julie King is often good for at least creating some havoc on the far post. A Boston corner in the last game against Chicago required a goal-line clearance, so clearly they can be effective. Another one like it could be a gamechanger.
There's plenty of points to be had; Boston is very capable of reaching out and snatching them. A little more connectivity through the midfield, a little more service into the box, and we could be seeing a marked increase in shots and goals and, maybe, knock on wood, a chance at a playoff spot.
Breakers vs. Red Stars kicks off at 7 PM ET and will stream live on NWSL's youtube channel.