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NWSL Week In Review: Rock bottom for Breakers?

(photo copyright Linehan Photography for The Equalizer)

(photo copyright Linehan Photography for The Equalizer)

Rock bottom is often a moving target in a “be careful what you wish for” kind of way, but the Boston Breakers – heck, every women’s soccer fan with a heart – hopes that last Friday’s 7-1 debacle in Rochester is as low as they can go.

In a league (at least until Portland recently) that is set up for parity, Boston is not only 1-8-1 this season (with just 3 goals scored) and finished seven points below any other NWSL team in 2015, but have lost an astounding 10 straight road matches, haven’t won in 17 (a streak almost two full years long now) away from home, and are 1-23-4 in their last 28 games outside Boston dating back to 2013.

I could keep going, but you get the idea. Sadly, setting aside the ugliness of Friday, most of the problems in Boston have nothing to do with the current product on the field. The Breakers were near .500 and on the edge of the playoff race when they fired coach Lisa Cole late in the 2013 campaign and you can argue it’s been pretty much downhill ever since.

The Breakers have never had a bonafide USWNT star, but Sydney Leroux scored 11 goals for that 2013 team and was complemented by Heather O’Reilly, Lianne Sanderson, Joanna Lohman, and Alyssa Naeher – whom they grabbed midseason upon her return from Germany. It was a decent squad, but not a star-laden team that was underachieving badly.

By 2014, Leroux was gone (traded to Seattle for Kristie Mewis and two draft picks that they later traded), but led by O’Reilly and Sanderson (Jazmine Reeves also scored seven goals), the Breakers still managed to score 37 goals. Alas, the defense was so poor that Naeher won NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year despite her 2.21 goals against average (and her team finishing ninth in the table). And no one really argued it.

By last season, Boston mysteriously had no USWNT regulars (O’Reilly was traded for Kassey Kallman and Morgan Marlborough), no Sanderson (traded to Seattle for a draft pick, which was shipped to Washington along with another pick for Angela Salem), no Lohman, and not so mysteriously subsequently finished last by those seven points. In the offseason, they hired a new coach in Matt Beard, but dumped their biggest star – again – in trading Naeher to Chicago.

They got Whitney Engen and a couple of second-round draft picks in return, but their draft record has been woeful as well. In an alternate universe, even if the Breakers didn’t acquire a USWNT star, they could have had the likes of Raquel Rodriguez, Dani Colaprico, Sofia Huerta, and Sarah Killion, but have traded all the picks away for a variety of things that no longer appear on their roster. The latest trade was giving their first and second-round 2016 picks for McCall Zerboni and Sinead Farrelly, and they’ve since traded Zerboni to the Western New York team that destroyed them last week and Farrelly is out for the season due to injury. The Breakers also had the rights to Dagny Brynsjardottir, but got rid of them for a pair of non-first round picks.

Of the 18 players they’ve ever drafted (in NWSL at least), the best at the moment appears to be their first, Casey Short out of Florida State in 2013, and Short never appeared a game for Boston after tearing her ACL, leading them to trade her to Chicago for the No. 13 pick in the 2014 draft. The Breakers took Natasha Anasi, who never even reported to them, instead going to Iceland. The Breakers had the first spot in the newly formed Allocation Order that could potentially get them a star from somewhere, but they traded that to Portland as well (for Christen Westphal). And the beat goes on.

It’s a shame because Boston has done fairly well off the field, always one of the more professional organizations in the community and through public relations, and has had good support in Boston from WUSA to WPS to NWSL, even through the WPSL Elite season. But it’s a tough team to sell right now.

Beard was successful at Liverpool, but his style does not seem to be working with players like Kristie Mewis (who has also been injured) and Stephanie McCaffrey, and sadly Boston isn’t likely to get off the bottom of the table as it’s currently constructed without them. Libby Stout has not been Alyssa Naeher so far in 2016, and – while Boston will be helped by others losing players going to the Olympics – it looks like a long rest of the season. Again.

But rock bottom means there’s nowhere to go but up, right? By next April, Boston could have added Rose Lavelle and a few other youngsters to climb out of the hole they’ve dug. But it’s certainly a big one.

What else did we learn as players depart for Olympic camp in all directions?

WEDNESDAY

Portland 2:0 Chicago (recap)

What Went Down: In front of 17,000 people (?!?) the Thorns and Red Stars looked a lot like they may meet again down the line in a playoff game. Chicago ended up on the losing end, but did create plenty of chances, only to have Michelle Betos keep them at bay in her return. The Thorns got a couple of early goals (one thanks to a pretty poor Julie Johnston mistake that Christine Sinclair took full advantage of) and threatened a few other times in an open, entertaining contest and remained atop the table.

Player of the Game: Amandine Henry – When you watch someone like Henry play, you wonder how the U.S. has had so much success without a pure ball-winner like Henry. She does other things well, but the amount of times Henry is in the right place to stop an opposing attack is amazing. We’ll see her after the Olympics, I guess.

Under the Radar: Christine Sinclair – Her current health has to make Canadian fans happy as she heads to the Olympics. She ran away from Julie Johnston on a couple of occasions and looked more like the 2007-08 Sinclair than the injury-battling Sinclair we’ve seen in the last 12 months or so. Her field vision and overall quality is still a joy to watch.

Inside the Numbers: 27 – Number of shots combined for the two teams (with Portland holding a 14-13 edge). This was not a boring NWSL contest.

Up next: Portland – (Played again); Chicago – at Western New York (Fri.)

THURSDAY

Orlando 1:0 Houston (recap)

What Went Down: With both teams in desperate need of a victory, both threw caution to the wind in the second half, with the Dash having so many good chances, they looked ready to score on several occasions, but their scoring jinx continued. After scoring three goals in the opener, Houston has scored just three times in the subsequent eight games, none in the last 470 minutes of play. When Jasmyne Spencer finished a Sarah Hagen pass in stoppage time at the other end, Houston amazingly had its fifth consecutive 1-0 loss and sits just ahead of Boston in the standings. They’ll keep most of their offense during the Olympic break, but 2016 seems like a lost cause as far as the playoffs are concerned.

Player of the Game: Ashlyn Harris – She was only credited with five saves in the end, but she was equal to everything Houston threw at her in this game, even if they probably should have put a few more balls on frame.

Under the Radar: Monica – Tom Sermanni has used her at both center back and holding mid and she’s been solid in both spots for most of the season. She wasn’t always front and center Thursday, but sometimes it’s best for a center back not to be.

Inside the Numbers: 7 – Number of shots Alex Morgan took in this game, a season-high for any player. Alas, she only put one of them on target.

Up next: Orlando – (Played again); Houston – at Sky Blue (July 9)

FRIDAY

Western New York 7:1 Boston (recap)

What Went Down: We’ve already gone over the Boston side of this, but it was a tremendous result for a Flash team that may be in the best position of anyone outside Seattle for the next five games before the Olympic break. Regardless of opposition, scoring five times in a half and tying the NWSL single-game record (Portland, 2014) is impressive as Paul Riley continues (especially at home) to use his speed to lethal effect, particularly Jess McDonald and Lynn Williams up front. They will have to close the season with four straight road games, but two of them are against Boston.

Player of the Game: Jess McDonald – Getting a hat trick this season is something to be lauded as McDonald matched the entire goal output of the Breakers and almost had a couple more. She is now tied with teammate Lynn Williams for the league goal lead with five, not bad for a player who has technically been on six (Chicago, Seattle, Portland, Houston, Kansas City, and now WNY) of the 10 clubs in the just four year old league.

Under the Radar: Jaelene Hinkle – Hinkle may be the favorite (with Gina Lewandowski) to be cut completely from the USWNT roster before they go to Brazil, but she was fantastic again Friday, as Boston had no answer for her down the left flank. The Flash would be happy to take her back if she comes.

Inside the Numbers: 16 – Number of goals the Flash have scored in just three games this season, which would in itself match the Thorns for the league lead.

Up next: Western New York – vs. Chicago (Fri.); Boston – at Seattle (Sat.)

SATURDAY

Washington 1:2 Sky Blue (recap)

What Went Down: Sky Blue scored two wonderful goals, one by Raquel Rodriguez and the other by Sam Kerr and then held off the Spirit for another impressive road victory for the upstarts. In many ways, Sky Blue is what Boston could be on the field, as draft picks like Leah Galton, Rodriguez, and Sarah Killion have taken up key spots, while Kelley O’Hara and Sam Kerr were able to show their international class.

{GORDON: Thoughts from Sky Blue’s win in Washington}

Crystal Dunn has somehow not scored this season, and as much as she is contributing elsewhere, it’s still holding the Spirit back a little. Perhaps more surprising is Dunn’s seven shots on goal, less than teammate Diana Matheson (who scored a headed goal in this match) and some 20 behind league leader Christen Press. There’s no reason to panic, but they’re going to need some results in the next month.

Player of the Game: Leah Galton – Sky Blue probably wishes they could have helped Galton, who had both assists, graduate earlier from Hofstra at this point. Galton’s speed with and without the ball has been a revelation for SBFC, who are only four points behind the Spirit for the last playoff spot.

Under the Radar: Erin Simon – Simon was a late addition to the starting lineup and all she had to do was keep Crystal Dunn in check. No problem. She wasn’t perfect, but she was certainly up to the task as she has been for most of her appearances, not bad for someone who wasn’t even drafted.

Inside the Numbers: 21 – Number of shots for Kelley O’Hara this season, leading Sky Blue, despite spending most of her time at defense. She did get to play attacker for most of the game Saturday.

Up next: Washington – vs. Kansas City (Sat.); Sky Blue – at Portland (Sat.)

Kansas City 0:0 Seattle (recap)

What Went Down: It was actually FCKC that was more upset that they didn’t win this match by the end as they had the better chances in another disappointing effort from the sliding Reign, who didn’t generate much at the other end. Shea Groom continued to be aggressive and controversial. FCKC fans thought Merritt Mathias (who used to play in Kansas City) should have been sent off for pushing Groom on the ground after one of her collisions with Hope Solo in the box. Either way, Seattle was very frustrated.

Somewhat amazingly, Kansas City’s 10 games have produced only 13 goals this season (6 for, 7 against), while Seattle’s haven’t had many more with 15 (8 goals for, 7 against). Seattle scored 41 times in 20 games last season while FCKC had 32, the top two scoring teams in the league.

Player of the Game: Heather O’Reilly – Her Olympic fate remains to be seen, but O’Reilly went up and down the sideline on a 94-degree night like the HAO of old. Alas, although they came close, there were no goals for FCKC.

Under the Radar: Mandy Laddish – She’ll probably never be able to be Lauren Holiday, but Laddish is turning into a solid replacement as she more than held her own against Seattle’s talented midfield. Again, though, no goals.

{HUSTED: Thoughts from Saturday night’s scoreless draw}

Inside the Numbers: 13 – Number of corner kicks for FCKC in this game, but they couldn’t make one count for the winner.

Up next: Kansas City – at Washington (Sat.); Seattle – vs. Boston (Sat.)

SUNDAY

Orlando 1:2 Portland (recap)

What Went Down: Another great advertisement for the NWSL in front of 7,000+ on a hot afternoon in Orlando. It looked like another Jasmyne Spencer goal was going to give the Pride one more home victory, but the Thorns continue to show championship mettle, getting a fantastic equalizer from sub (likely starter on nine other teams) Dagny Brynjarsdottir and a winner from Lindsey Horan after Hayley Raso (another sub) made a great pass to set her up. Unfortunately for Orlando, who’s been really fun to watch this season, this was likely a crippling blow for their playoff hopes, as they’ll have a makeshift team for the next few games.

There are those that are cynical about how committed some are to the NWSL, but the goal celebrations alone in this game from Alex Morgan (on a goal that wasn’t hers) and the Thorns are a pretty good sign, even if they’ll be gone for a while.

Player of the Game: Dagny Brynjarsdottir – Brynsjardottir didn’t come to Portland to sit on the bench, but she made an immediate impact when coming on in scoring the tying goal that sparked the Thorns’ comeback in the same state where she played in college (Florida State). It will be interesting to see what she can do with all the national teamers away.

By the way, anything else happen in Icelandic soccer this week?

Under the Radar: Michelle Betos – Betos had a heck of a week. Although she did get caught out a little on Spencer’s goal, she made an outrageous double save in the first half and then robbed Morgan midway through the second, with replay showing it looked like all three were heading for the corner. Can’t ask for much more than that.

Inside the Numbers: 5 – Number of shots on goal for Brynjarsdottir this season, of which she’s scored on three of them.

Up next: Orlando – vs. Boston (July 10); Portland – vs. Sky Blue (Sat.)

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