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Breakers look for first winning streak without U.S. internationals

The Boston Breakers enter Sunday’s match-up with the Atlanta Beat following their first win in almost three months last Sunday against the Philadelphia Independence, but putting together their first win streak of the season may be tough as the United States Women’s National Team calls for four players.  Defenders Stephanie Cox and Amy LePeilbet as well as midfielder Kristine Lilly and Lauren Cheney will all be missing from Sunday’s match as they prepare for upcoming friendlies against Sweden.  They will also most likely not play July 18 against the Washington Freedom.  All four will be back in Boston, but the U.S. plays Sweden the night before in East Hartford, Conn. and if all four see action that evening, they surely will not play full matches the next day.

The trick to the Breakers getting their first win since April 10 may have had to do with a little bit of luck that did not come Boston’s way in the previous 11 weeks.  Boston has been unfortunate to drop points due to various decisions from referees, including giving up a stoppage time penalty kick to Sky Blue FC at Harvard on June 16.  Inexperienced players have also struggled to finish opportunities.

“Well I think the reason why we struggled in May and June is we have some young players that are coming along, doing well, but they are still young players and there were some mistakes made,” Breakers Head Coach Tony DiCicco said.  “We had some difficult decisions by the referees where we had penalty kicks reversed or not given, etcetera.  And then we shot ourselves in the foot with some naive defending or lack of creating great opportunities and we end up – this league is so tight that the distance between competition is razor thin so if you miss an opportunity it could come back to haunt you.”

One of those young players who had struggled to find net was Cheney, who scored her second goal of the season in Sunday’s 2-1 win over Philadelphia.  That was her first goal since the 2-1 win over the Washington Freedom April 10 when she scored the first goal of the season for Boston.

Sunday, DiCicco switched to a 3-5-2 which became a 3-4-3 in the second half.  That allowed Cheney to be complimented by Laura Del Rio and Lindsay Tarpley up top, while Kelly Smith dropped into more of an attacking midfielde

“I just wanted to get maximum attacking players on the field,” DiCicco said.  “By doing this, we kind of changed into a 3-4-3 for the whole second half.  By doing that we got our maximum offensive attacking personalities in the game but I think that was where we are not scoring a lot of goals and I think it is something we had to do.”

And do not overlook the fact that Leslie Osborne was back in the middle of the park after recovering from a leg infection.  Osborne brings a wealth of experience and leadership to the middle of the field for Boston and her ability to win and distribute the ball allows DiCicco to take a gamble with such an attacking formation.  Essentially playing with four players that could be considered forwards (Cheney, Tarpley, Del Rio and Smith) is a system that could easily be countered without a proper holding central midfielder like Osborne.

Going forward, that could be a system that helps turn around Boston’s season.  Sunday will surely be seen as a must-win for both Boston and Atlanta, two teams that are struggling.  Unfortunately, the same 3-5-2 look will not be possible without LePeilbet and Cox in the back.  Kasey Moore, Ifeoma Dieke and Jordan Angeli are possible replacements to join Alex Scott in the defense.

“Atlanta has been a little bit like us,” DiCicco said.  “They have played better than their record.  They have actually out-shot teams more than two-to-one and lost, so it won’t be an easy game.  They picked up five or six new players from Saint Louis when Saint Louis folded, so they are still getting players on the same page.  It’s hard to do that – pick up new players and assert them into the team and into the line-up in the middle of the season, but I think it will be a game we feel we can win but I also think it is a game that is going to be very, very hard-fought because they are going to want to win and they are going to fight for every ball.”

Elsewhere, Sky Blue FC travels to Toyota Park for its third meeting of the year with the Chicago Red Stars.  Both of the previous matches resulted in 1-0 wins for Sky Blue FC in games the Red Stars dominated.  That seems to be the story of Chicago’s season thus far: Dominating without winning.

Wednesday night was another example as the Red Stars kept Atlanta Beat goalkeeper Hope Solo busy but still only managed a 1-1 draw.  If Chicago expects to climb the table, it must begin to finish.  Christie Rampone and Meghan Schnur will be missing from Sky Blue FC’s backline due to national team duty, so Brittany Taylor, Daphne Koster, Keeley Dowling and India Trotter will have to shut down Chicago.  The Red Stars will be without Megan Rapinoe and Kate Markgraf, but perhaps most importantly, Jillian Loyden, who has a 0.85 GAA.

Finally, the Washington Freedom and FC Gold Pride will square off Sunday in the marquee match-up of the weekend.  Washington sits in fourth place and is coming off two straight 0-0 draws.  Most alarmingly, the Freedom (4-3-5, 17 pts.) is winless in its last five and now face an FC Gold Pride (8-3-1, 25 pts.) running on all cylinders.  The long trek to Northern California will be made without midfielders Sarah Huffman and Allie Long as well as forward Abby Wambach, making the task that much harder.  Rachel Buehler and Kelley O’Hara will be missing for FC Gold Pride due to national team duty.

A win would send FC Gold Pride seven points clear of the idle Philadelphia Independence and the Pride could very well begin to pull away from the pack.

Here is the full U.S. Women’s National team roster for July 13 and July 17 matches against Sweden:

USA vs. Sweden
July 13 – Omaha, Neb.
July 17 – East Hartford, Conn.

GOALKEEPERS (3): Nicole Barnhart (FC Gold Pride), Jill Loyden (Chicago Red Stars), Hope Solo (Atlanta Beat)
DEFENDERS (8): Rachel Buehler (FC Gold Pride), Stephanie Cox (Boston Breakers), Ali Krieger (FFC Frankfurt), Amy LePeilbet (Boston Breakers), Kate Markgraf (Chicago Red Stars), Heather Mitts (Philadelphia Independence), Christie Rampone (Sky Blue FC), Meghan Schnur (Sky Blue FC)
MIDFIELDERS (8): Shannon Boxx (FC Gold Pride), Sarah Huffman (Washington Freedom), Kristine Lilly (Boston Breakers), Lori Lindsey (Philadelphia Independence), Carli Lloyd (Sky Blue FC), Allie Long (Washington Freedom), Heather O’Reilly (Sky Blue FC), Megan Rapinoe (Chicago Red Stars)
FORWARDS (5): Lauren Cheney (Boston Breakers), Alex Morgan (California), Kelley O’Hara (FC Gold Pride), Amy Rodriguez (Philadelphia Independence), Abby Wambach (Washington Freedom)


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