The talk after Saturday’s Breakers’ win over the Thorns was the stoppage-time goal by Kristie Mewis. The talk at halftime was how Mewis combined with left back Mollie Pathman to dominate the left side and give the Breakers control of play against the theretofore undefeated Thorns.
But a key to the victory, and likely the most pleasing element for head coach Tom Durkin, was the play of center backs Kassey Kallman and Julie King. For the first time this season, Kallman and King looked like a true center back pairing, stepping and dropping and covering for each other as if they have always been partners.
“After the game the other night I talked to Kass and it felt really good,” King said. “We felt really connected. I felt like I knew what she was going to do. It seemed like she felt like she knew what I was going to do. We had some good chemistry back there.
“We’ve been working hard trying to figure it out as a back line altogether, but the other night was definitely the first time it really felt fluid and really connected as a back line. And that included (Katie Schoepfer) and Amy (Barczuk) in front of us.”
Katie Schoepfer and Amy Barczuk were the midfielders who sat on top of the back four. The outside backs were Pathman on the left and rookie Lauren Lazo on the right. Lazo was a preseason trialist who was always meant to be signed to the club, but a minor injury and her desire to complete her degree at Princeton delayed the signing until just a few days before the Thorns’ match.
“I was very impressed by Lauren,” said King, who was the closest defender to Lazo. “I think she really gutted out her effort in that game. It’s not easy coming in playing your first professional game let alone coming in after being hurt. She impressed me for sure. She played really smart.
“We stayed talking to her. And I told her before the game just talk to me. Even if you just say my name, just let me know that you’re there because we need you tonight. And she really stepped up.”
Indeed, Durkin held on to his final sub for a while, unsure if Lazo would make the full 90. He eventually used it in the 83rd minute, leaving the undrafted Lazo to hold down the fort until full time.
“I think (Lazo) is probably one of the most underrated players coming out of college,” Durkin said. “Athletically she is very very good. She is sort of beyond her years as a good student of the game. She’s intelligent and composed and she can serve a really good ball. So once she gets her legs under her I expect the same type of performance that Mollie Pathman gave us.”
The overall defensive effort was much needed for a team that allowed a dozen goals over its first four games and was down from World Cup starter Alyssa Naeher in goal to 2014 draftee Jami Kranich in goal. The Breakers had yet to hold an opponent even to one goal in 2015, making Saturday the team’s first shutout of the season and Kranich’s first as a professional.
“That’s what I had in my mind’s eye of what our back line was going to look like,” Durkin said.
The King-Kallman pairing was slow to develop, mostly because King missed a majority of preseason and opening day while recovering from the lingering effects of a knee injury that wound up affecting her calf and quad.
On the quality defensive performance, King said: “I think that has a lot to do with how we went about preparing for that week and the buildup of just playing together for the last four weeks since I’ve been back. It felt really good.”
“Comprehensively I think we played well defensively,” Durkin said.
The Breakers had opened the season in Portland and, faced with the unorthodox 3-6-1 of the Thorns for the first time, were admittedly caught off guard. But that was a scenario Durkin was not about to let happen to his team twice.
“Portland has come up with a really good system,” he said . “It caught me off guard in the first game,” Durkin said. “The center backs were trying to hold the holding midfielder in and she needed to move up and match up. We just studied the game film and it’s sort of all based on that square that they have in the midfield.”
The Breakers tweaked the shape and according to their coach were much more aggressive going into tackles and much more successful once they got there. “We went into 45 tackles and we won 29 which is pretty good out of 45.” Durkin said both numbers were by far season-bests.
The win over the Thorns began a stretch of seven in eight Breakers’ matches at Soldiers Field, the club’s new home which is drawing rave reviews from players, coaches, and fans. So far the Breakers have won both home games, conceding two total goals. They have lost their three road games, conceding 10.
“I think there is probably some correlation there unfortunately,” King said. “I wish I could say that I didn’t think that there was. At the end of the day we just have to be better on the road. Hopefully we can continue to be this good at home.”
Durkin said his team is still finding its confidence, something the performance against the Thorns should help.
“It was a huge relief to get that shutout,” King said. “Obviously we got the win so it’s even more exciting. I think if we can put together more of those defensive efforts like we did last game, there’s no doubt there will be more shutouts to come.”
More Week 6 Takeaways
Rowland impresses in battle of rookie keepers: FC Kansas City gave a surprise start to rookie Katelyn Rowland last week against the Flash, pitting her against Sabrina D’Angelo for a matchup of the only goalkeepers taken in the 2015 draft. Unfortunately for D’Angelo, it lasted only 15 minutes until a collision with Liz Bogus took her out of the match. Rowland looked very good, including a pair of tough saves to put up a shutout in her professional debut. D’Angelo’s replacement, Chantel Jones, also kept her goal clean for the first scoreless draw of the season. Jones could have been sent off, however, for a hit from behind and after the whistle on Shea Groom, who could have been shown a second yellow for an aggressive challenge against the Flash keeper. Groom was spared and Jones only got a yellow card. Jones was suspended retroactively on Tuesday.
Red Stars battle to stay unbeaten: When Kealia Ohai scored against the run of play to make it 2-0, it looked like it might be the Dash’s night. But rookie Sofia Huerta scored twice—the second straight game she has done so—to earn the Red Stars a split of the points and keep them undefeated. The Dash welcomed Brittany Bock back to the lineup but their performance tailed off with her exit after halftime. Red Stars’ coach Rory Dames said before the season that his club knew its identity both with and without its plethora of World Cup players, and so far they are proving him right.
Darkness at the Plex: The Spirit were unable to produce a webcast for this one so the match itself remains a bit of a mystery to anyone who was not there, but Francisca Ordega saw herself off to the World Cup with a stoppage time goal to lift the Spirit on a night they were outplayed by Sky Blue.
Sky Blue FC at Boston Breakers (Friday, 7 p.m. EDT) – The Breakers exit their best effort of the season and will look to make it two straight against a Sky Blue side that has not scored in the run of play in their last three matches.
Washington Spirit at Western New York Flash (Saturday, 7 p.m. EDT) – Both teams recorded their first clean sheets of 2015 last weekend but both teams can fill it up when their attacking options are working. There could be lots of end-to-end action in this one.
Chicago Red Stars at FC Kansas City (Saturday, 8 p.m. EDT) – The year’s first edition on the Midwest Melee finds both teams in good order. The Red Stars top the table as the final unbeaten side in the league. FC Kansas City have four straight shutouts. A fifth would establish an NWSL record.
Houston Dash at Portland Thorns FC (Saturday, 10 p.m. EDT) – Both teams gave away points late last week. The Dash led the Red Stars 2-0 in the 2nd half before drawing 2-2. The Thorns dropped a 1-0 decision in Boston on a stoppage time goal.
UNOFFICIAL – Seattle Reign FC host China on Friday night at Memorial Stadium. The match will not be streamed.
Weather pummeled Houston and Washington ahead of matches last weekend, no doubt holding back the final numbers in both cities. Here is a look at the attendance figures by club through Week 6.
Portland Thorns FC – 3 games: 13,590 avg. (2014 – 13,362)
Steady as she goes for the standard-bearers for just about everything off-the-field in NWSL. Unlike when the Timbers play there are actually seats available, but no one is going to argue with 25 of 26 all-time matches having exceeded 10,000.
Chicago Red Stars – 4 games: 5,481 (2014 – 2,949)
The average is a bit skewed since the Toyota Park match is offset by three others at Benedictine as opposed to 11 others last season. The good news is the Benedictine average is up (1,969 from 1,786). They also have another doubleheader at Toyota Park so the year-end average is guaranteed to be up.
Houston Dash – 3 games: 4,575 (2014 – 4,539)
Interesting times for the Dash who did not meet their opening night attendance goal of 10,000 and who played in front of a mostly empty lower bowl last Friday. It poured all day and into the night Friday which was certainly a factor. Interested to see which way the momentum goes.
FC Kansas City – 3 games: 4,267 (2014 – 2,018)
The two matches at Swope have averaged 2,157, and both were on Thursday. So it seems the new place agrees with FC Kansas City fans. The opener at Sporting Park assures they will be up for the season. What will matter more is if the Swope number shows a dramatic increase over last year’s Durwood disaster.
Washington Spirit – 2 games: 3,616 (2014 – 3,335)
Good start for the Spirit who are ahead of last year’s average even with a horrible storm coinciding with kickoff last week. Their road-heavy start to the season will only benefit them as the summer and World Cup combine to bolster attendance later on.
Seattle Reign FC – 2 games: 2,673 (2014 – 3,632)
There is no other way to look at the first two games besides disappointing. But they trended upward as last season rolled on so perhaps that will be the case again.
Boston Breakers – 2 games: 2,523 (2014 – 2,437)
Soldiers Field looks like a win all around for the Breakers. If the numbers trend up like they did in 2014 the total will be up and at a lesser cost. They did get a few good numbers at Harvard late last season though so there remains work to do.
Western New York Flash – 2 games: 1,838 (2014 – 3,177)
Simply put, they need to do better at the gate.
Sky Blue FC – 3 games: 1,419 (2014 – 1,640)
Numbers are not great, and the April 26 match was the lowest attended weekend match in league history. But they might actually be on course to top last year’s paltry figure.
— As of last week, FC Kansas City head coach Vlatko Andonovski is an American citizen. The 38-year-old was born in Yugoslavia in the area that became Macedonia. He has been a fixture on the soccer scene in the Midwest since the start of the century when he played for the indoor Wichita Wings.
— Chantel Jones has been suspended for this weekend’s match as a result of shoving Shea Groom from behind last Thursday. With Sabrina D’Angelo hurt the Flash will need to call in two goalkeepers for the match.
— Sabrina D’Angelo has a shoulder separation and the Flash expect her to be out 2-4 weeks. They will need two keepers for this weekend’s match against the Spirit.
— FC Kansas City will go back to Nicole Barnhart for this weekend’s Midwest Melee showdown against the Red Stars.
— Jen Buczkowski’s consecutive games played and started streak is up to 54.
— FC Kansas City joined Sky Blue FC in 2013 as the only NWSL team to record four consecutive shutouts.
— I give credit to the NWSL Disciplinary Committee for suspended Chantel Jones. The last thing anyone wants is a league where players drift to the wrong side of the line of physical confrontations. The suspension sends the right message. Yes, Shea Groom could have received a second yellow for the tackle that started it, but Jones has to be better than that.
— So many NWSL players would have rushed the shot that Kristie Mewis took into the open goal to give the Breakers the win. But Mewis was cool and calm to loop the finish into the goal. Credit also for Maddy Evans for her aggressive run that disrupted Thorns’ keeper Michelle Betos and two defenders and ultimately led to the misplay.
— Current and former NWSL and U.S. national team players have launched a new active beauty brand, Sweat, dubbed as cosmetics for active women. The first product is a mineral powder foundation that also has SPF 30. Red Stars defender Taryn Hemmings and former University of Denver teammate Emily Hines are the founders. Courtney Jones, who retired from the NWSL after last season, is CEO, while Leslie Osborne is CMO and Lindsay Tarpley is public relations director.
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