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Boston Breakers season preview: taking it day by day

With a year under his belt, Matt Beard is ready to take the Breakers off the bottom of the table (photo credit: ISI Photos)

With a year under his belt, Matt Beard is ready to take the Breakers off the bottom of the table (photo credit: ISI Photos)

2016 record: 3-15-2, 11 pts (10th place)
Playoffs: 
did not qualify
Head Coach: 
Matt Beard
Home Ground: Jordan Field

The story of ’16

The Breakers opened 2016 on an ominous note when they conceded a bicycle kick goal to Joanna Lohman three minutes in. Things hardly got better from there. That was April 16. The Breakers did not score a goal for themselves until May 22 and after being shut out five consecutive times. On July 10 in Orlando the Breakers took a 1-0 lead into the final minute only to concede the equalizer in the 90th minute after losing Brooke Elby to a red card, and then lost the match in the 93rd minute. That loss dropped the Breakers to 1-10-1, long beyond the point of having lost the season, and extended their futility outside Boston to 19 games (0-17-2.)

The next away match, in Kansas City, did see the end of the two-year winless run, and after being blanked in seven of their first nine matches the team did manage to play their final 11 being shutout only twice. But other than the midseason arrival of Natasha Dowie, very little went right in Matt Beard’s first season as head coach. Three wins and 11 points both represent the fewest of any team in NWSL history, and Breakers remain the only one of the eight founding clubs to reach the playoffs or even finish a season with a winning record. Over the last three years the Breakers have finished ahead of only one team—the expansion Houston Dash in 2014.

“It’s definitely not been easy,” Julie King, the only Breaker remaining from the NWSL’s debut season, said. “It’s been really hard, really frustrating. It’s been mentally exhausting.”

What happened over the winter

What didn’t happen over the winter? Beard not only overhauled the roster, he did so in such a way that he felt comfortable bringing only 22 players into preseason—10 short of the league maximum.

“I wanted to concentrate on the group of players that we’ve recruited. From my perspective the intensity and the standard of training has been set from day one. Last year I think I had the maximum I could have and it was a nightmare on day one. We have a reserve system we can utilize if we have to.”

{MORE PREVIEWS:  Harvey, Reign trying to get back in playoff mix}

The other part of Beard’s thinking with regards to the short camp roster is that he was able to target and acquire the players he wanted. On the international market the Breakers brought in Rosie White, Emilie Haavi (out 4-6 weeks with a broken jaw), and Adriana Leon—all of whom should contribute offensively. The trade market yielded Allysha Chapman, Amanda Da Costa, and Megan Oyster. Amanda Frisbie and Tiff Weimer are hoping for career revivals after being signed off the scrap heap.

Beard also infused the team with youth, finagling his NWSL counterparts to secure four 1st round picks including No. 1 overall Rose Lavelle. Morgan Andrews, Ifeoma Onumonu, and Margaret Purce also went to Boston in the opening nine picks.

“I’m really excited about the changes and really impressed with the changes we were able to make over a year’s time,” King said. “It’s about time that the Breakers get back on the map.”

Player to Watch

Seven weeks after being the top pick in the draft, Rose Lavelle saw the field for the first time as a U.S. international. The match will be remembered as a late, 1-0 loss to England and—for those who were there—the frigid temperatures and biting winds. But Lavelle’s play in midfield caught the eye of U.S. coach Jill Ellis who told the press afterwards: “That was a great answer.

 

Rose Lavelle addressing the room after the Breakers made her the top pick in the NWSL draft

Rose Lavelle addressing the room after the Breakers made her the top pick in the NWSL draft

Her club coach said of Lavelle:  “We’ve got a player now in Rose Lavelle who can beat players by moving the ball.”

It remains to be seen how much responsibility Beard puts on Lavelle, but with a young team built around the youngsters there seems no reason to believe she won’t be prominently involved from the get-go. Being the focal point for a young club team every week can sometimes be more difficult than hopping in with national team players who can pull you along, but if the Breakers are to make significant progress this year and beyond, the speedy, technically sound Lavelle figures to be in the mix.

Best Case Scenario

A year after he opened camp by laying out goals for the club, Beard is taking the simple approach this season.

“There’s no targets. We’re just going to take it day by day and game by game,” he said. “I knowthat sounds like cliché but last year we came in and I spoke about being ambitious and wanting to achieve things and I think that put the players under pressure straight away. I feel like this year I can’t affect what happens in a month’s time, I can only affect what happens today and tomorrow. That’s what we’re going to focus on. If that gets us to the top end of the table that’s fantastic.”

While growing pains will be inevitable, if the back line plays at its optimum level there is enough attacking personality in Boston to win matches and keep the team respectable. If the Breakers reach September having proven they are no longer pushovers on the road, and if the September math is about getting into the playoffs instead of clinching the No. 1 pick, it will be difficult to argue that it was not a successful season.

Cause for Pause

With Engen out of the mix, Oyster becomes the focal point of a backline that has several solid players but no tried and true leader or international level player. Add in a goalkeeper exiting serious surgery with less than two full games of professional experience and the defense will be under the gun to keep the ball out of the back of the net.

“We’ve got flexibility there. We’ve got versatility as well,” Beard said.

But if the defense falters early, it could be another long year at Jordan Field, and no one wants to go into another offseason with another new coach.

Final Outlook

The Breakers are going to score goals. Beard says he will line them up in an attacking formation and look to keep the ball moving. Whether or not they can keep opponents from doing the same, and create a winning mentality in the process, will determine how the 2017 Boston Breakers will be remembered.

“Most important for me,” Beard said, “is that we’ve got players that can play and pass the ball. Looking at the players we’ve got in midfield and the players we’ve got up front, we’ve got goals in this team.”

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