BOSTON – It certainly wasn’t a surprise that Carli Lloyd scored the game-winner in her final NWSL game before leaving for the U.S. national team’s World Cup training camp.
However, the own goal part was.
It as a tough break for Lloyd after Kristie Mewis’ free kick was allowed to stay in the mixer a bit too long, finally caroming off Lloyd’s legs and into the Houston goal in the 72nd minute, giving Boston an unexpected 3-2 win over the Dash in its home opener at Soldiers Field Soccer Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Boston (1-1) finished ahead of only Houston in last year’s NWSL standings, but the Dash (1-1-1) now feature national teamers Carli Lloyd and Morgan Brian in the middle and had a full year to prepare after putting things together quickly to play last season as an expansion team.
But Breakers’ coach Tom Durkin set out to neutralize the middle from the opening kickoff, and the quartet of Amy Barczuk, Rafinha, Stephanie Verdoia and Mewis did their best to clog the middle. It worked, especially in the first half.
“We studied their tapes and they looked really good in both matches,” Durkin said. “Any midfield with Carli Lloyd in it is a good midfield and we know what Morgan Brian can do. So we felt like our best matchup was our frontrunners against their two center backs.”
Rookie Stephanie McCaffrey gave the Houston back line fits all day, and after Julie King had given the Breakers a 1-0 lead off a corner in just the 8th minute, McCaffrey set up fellow striker Nkem Ezurike to double the advantage just after the half-hour mark.
“I figured he (Durkin) would kind of flood the midfield with his formation,” Houston coach Randy Waldrum said. “He tweaked it kind of like we expected, but to me the two goals we gave up in the first half were kind of soft. First one off a set piece and the second one, quite honestly, came off of one of our throw-ins.”
The Dash answered just four minutes later when Jessica McDonald headed home a Kealia Ohai cross, and applied most of the pressure in the remainder of the first half. They finally equalized in the 68th minute, when Brian’s long pass found McDonald, who chipped Alyssa Naeher to tie the game.
But Boston continued to be extremely dangerous on counters, and in the 72nd minute got what turned out to be the game-winner on a set piece. Mewis lifted the ball high into the box and Dash goalkeeper Bianca Henninger misplayed it slightly, allowing it to get past her. From there it was a mad scramble, eventually being kicked into Lloyd’s legs and bouncing into the goal. It capped off an encouraging day for the Breakers.
“The one thing that Tom (Durkin) said to me is that you can’t play like a rookie,” McCaffrey said. “For me, a lot of going forward is you have to be confident. You don’t really see or hear about strikers that are timid. You have to take risks and believe in yourself.”
The Breakers, who were beaten 4-1 in Portland two weeks ago in their opener, now find themselves in a good spot with the national team players leaving. They lose only Naeher, although the goalkeeper came up huge in the second half with two tremendous saves to rob Brian and then coming out to stop a Melissa Henderson breakaway in the final minutes.
Meanwhile Houston will have to deal with life without Lloyd, Brian, Meghan Klingenberg. The Dash also lost center back Stephanie Ochs just 19 minutes in with a knee injury (she was replaced by rookie Carleigh Williams). Waldrum said her knee was structurally sound at least initially, so he hopes it’s not a long-term one. The team said that the initial diagnosis was a right knee contusion.
“We were building two rosters early on, one when they (international players) are here, one when they’re not,” Waldrum said. “We’re as prepared as we can be, short of making another move or two, which we’re always looking for players. At one point we had eight or nine players, so we had to trade a couple of international players to prepare for this period, so I think we’ll find out next weekend how ready we are.”
— BostonBreakers (@BostonBreakers) April 26, 2015
— Houston Dash (@HoustonDash) April 26, 2015
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