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2011 WPS Season Preview: Boston Breakers

It was a tale of two halves for the 2010 Boston Breakers.

To open the season, the Breakers, despite all their talent, were shaky at best, heading into the all-star break sitting in sixth of then seven-team Women’s Professional Soccer. Coming out of the break, it wasn’t the talented players (Kelly Smith, Alex Scott, Leslie Osborne, Lauren Cheney) leading the way. Instead, it was rookie keeper Alyssa Naeher — with the aid of Amy LePeilbet and WPS’ second-stingiest defense — and rookie defender-turned-attacking midfielder Jordan Angeli (and her rookie-leading seven goals) that guided the Breakers to a second-place regular season finish.

Boston went 9-3-2 in the second half (1-5-4 in the first half), losing to eventual champion, and now defunct, FC Gold Pride twice, and the WPS cellar dweller Atlanta Beat. That Atlanta game, however, was a gritty match after Riptide-gate, where then Beat keeper Hope Solo referred to the fans as indecent (to put it lightly).

However, a key injury to Osborne — on a controversial tackle by Sky Blue FC’s Patrizia Panico — left the Breakers without arguably its heart-and-sole in the center of the pitch. Boston was unable to find a viable replacement to fill Osborne’s void and ultimately fell in the WPS Super Semifinal to Philadelphia Independence at home, 2-1 in a match that went into extra time.

Looking ahead to 2011, if there’s anything good to take from the fact that Gold Pride has folded, it’s that the team that had enough talent to dominate the league for years to come has dispersed, allowing the remaining six clubs, including the Breakers, a very good chance to win a championship.

Of course, adding former Gold Pride captain and defensive stalwart Rachel Buehler, along with 2010 rookie all-star, and former Gold Pride forward Kelley O’Hara will boost the Breakers’ chances to finish atop the WPS standings.

Boston lost women’s soccer icon Kristine Lilly, who retired after the 2010 campaign. In the 2011 draft, the Breakers picked up Keelin Winters (1st round, 6th overall pick) out of University of Portland, Whitney Palmer (2nd, 12th) from Oklahoma, Katherine Sheeleigh (3rd, 19th) from Harvard and Tanya Taylor (4th, 24th) out of UC-Irvine with the draft’s last selection. Winters will surely see playing time in 2011; the others, it’s in the air.

Like 2010, Boston’s strength will undoubtedly be its defense. Already bolstering a defense with LePeilbet, anchored by the keeping of Naeher, the addition of Buehler, to go along with the outside back dual threats of Alex Scott and Stephanie Cox, this Breakers defensive line isn’t likely to allow many goals in 2011.

Its weakness will most likely be the midfield — and that’s a stretch. With the solid defensive line, and the strong frontline of Smith and Cheney, the only thing left to question is midfield. Osborne and Angeli should patrol the center, and that should be formidable, especially in the defensive third. Weakness will be on the outside midfield slot. Winters will likely see time out there and perhaps Liz Bogus.

That said, Boston will likely implement the 4-4-2 formation. It wouldn’t be a surprise with all these defensive-minded players that Boston goes into a 5-3-2 at times. During the second half of last season, Breakers Head Coach Tony DiCicco implemented a 4-3-3.  Scoring was an issue for Boston — outside of Smith (an excellent playmaker) and Angeli. Cheney, who was also a rookie all-star like O’Hara, didn’t do much scoring in 2010. She’ll need to step up, and likely will, if the Breakers are to be successful in the offensive third this season.

It should be a great year in Boston. The only worry the Breakers will have is holding onto a playoff spot when they are without their Women’s World Cup players mid-season.

Several attempts were made to the Boston Breakers and coach Tony DiCicco, who was unavailable for comment.

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