Breakers fire Cole, Whitehill named interim coach

The Equalizer Staff August 2, 2013 57
Lisa Cole

Lisa Cole guided the Breakers to a 6-7-5 record, well below expectations (Photo Copyright: Meg Linehan)

The Boston Breakers, seven points out of a playoff spot with four games to play, fired head coach Lisa Cole on Friday.  She will be replaced on an interim basis by defender Cat Whitehill who will serve as player/interim coach.

“Lisa was a critical participant in the launch of the National Women’s Soccer League and making sure there was a professional women’s league in the U.S.,” Breakers managing partner Michael Stoller said in a statement released by the team. “I cannot thank her enough for her years of service to the Breakers and women’s professional soccer.”

Assistant Maren Rojas also left the club.

Cole was with the Breakers since their rebirth when WPS launched in 2009.  After three years as Tony DiCicco’s assistant she was named head coach for the 2012 season.  Cole guided the Breakers to a first-place finish in WPSL Elite in 2012 before losing to the Red Stars in the semifinals.

This year’s team is 6-7-5 and has been undone by inconsistency on defense both in terms of performance and personnel.  The goalkeeper position became an issue early on when 18-year old Cecilia Santiago was allocated to Boston.  Cole allowed the college and supplemental drafts to pass by without securing a keeper and wound up starting Ashley Phillips, who was initially brought to training camp to assist with other potential goalkeepers.  The team eventually signed Alyssa Naeher who has missed the last four games after nasal surgery.

“At this point, as the team makes a push to the playoffs, this was a change that needed to be made,” Breakers General Manager Lee Billiard said in the statement. “Lisa has done so much for our organization and the women’s professional game in general. It is with great regret this change had to be made.”

Whitehill’s first game at the helm will be Saturday when the Breakers host the Western New York Flash.  A loss and a win or draw by Sky Blue FC will eliminate the Breakers from playoff contention.

Reached by Equalizer, Whitehill said, “I’m focusing soley on winning my first game as head coach to keep the team in the playoff Hunt.  I’ve always respected Lisa with how much she loves our team and how she is always trying to make women’s soccer better.”

Having the team captain take over as head coach is not unprecedented in women’s soccer.  In 2009 Sky Blue coach Kelly Lindsey walked out on the team with two games remaining in the regular season and was replaced by Christie Rampone.  A Breakers loss allowed Sky Blue to sneak into the playoffs where they won three road games and the championship with Rampone calling the shots.  More recently Abby Wambach served as player/coach with magicJack in 2011.

  • kernel_thai

    I dont think this was a change that needed to be made…at least not today! If ur argument is that Cole wasnt the coach to get u in the playoffs, u needed to make that decision weeks ago so a new coach or even an interim coach had a chance to make an impact on the team. Changing the coach on the Friday before a Saturday game that could eliminate the Breakers from the playoffs is kinda silly. Whether or not Cole was the right person for the job, the timing of this is remarkable.

  • Michelle

    Something had to have happen behind the scenes…doesn’t feel right

  • Elaine

    Wow. Was there a mutiny in the locker room? Didn’t see this coming.

    • Steglitz49

      Not in the locker-room. More likely among the owners/investors with one faction getting the upper hand possibly because of something that happened in the last few days.

      • romel dias

        yea…strange strange strange…this just stinks

    • Silver Frost

      What else could it be? Going the last 4 games w/out a coach is suicidal.

      • Elaine

        And their last four games are against teams in the top 4 of the table. Something serious must have happened over in the locker room or front office. But if Cat can coach the team to win all 4, more power to her.

  • Rorr

    Something about this doesn’t pass the smell test… the asst. leaving with her?… but on the other hand, this isn’t a big surprise. The surprise was she was kept as head coach for this long. Riding Tony’s coat tails got her this far but the coach for this quality franchise has to be better… much better. From what I’ve heard, she didn’t have a great exit from the college coaching ranks, so it’ll be interesting to see where she goes from here.

    • http://partdeuxphoto.tumblr.com/ Meg Linehan

      Maren Rojas was her hire – so little reason for her to stay, probably.

      • Rorr

        There’s been plenty of instances in the past in other sports where an asst. will take on the coaching duties for the rest of the season, esp. if the change is of an amicable nature. Rojas has been around the block so she should’ve been a first option. The timing plus this aspect alludes to something more behind the scenes?

  • Craigaroo

    Boston’s doing about as I expected, although both Leroux and (from what I’ve heard) Sanderson are exceeding my expectations. I never figured Boston to be among the league leaders.

    • Steglitz49

      Boston are doing worse than one could expect given their squad. The only surprise in this is that the coach was not given the heave-hoe sooner.

      • Craigaroo

        They had no proven GK at this level. The defensive line is led by someone who’s been out of the national team for several years already. Sanderson and Lohman, while good players, weren’t particularly star players in WPS. O’Reilly, while great with the national team, never was on a dominant WPS team (although of course she was on the Sky Blue team that rode playoff magic to the championship). And finally there’s the question of Leroux, who’s done well – but I contend she wasn’t proven at this level, especially being the key go-to striker. Many stars out of college, some who seemed more fully rounded and talented, failed to make much impact in their first couple years in the pros: Cheney (Holiday), O’Hara, Tobin Heath among those coming to mind. They clearly looked to be a bottom half team compared to Portland, KC, WNY and Sky Blue

        • Steglitz49

          It is not true that Boston “had no proven GK at this level”. They were allocated a perfectly good goalie and the stats demonstrate it.

          If Ms O’Reilly won the playoffs with SB she can’t be that bad. She provided the cross for Alex’s 4-3 header and Syd was pretty good in the OG too.

          Boston was let down by an allocated player never showing up. Not nice.

          Tobin Heath and Loren Holiday (as Cheney) played in the 2008 Olympic gold-winning team. KO had to wait a bit longer, though.

          • Craigaroo

            Cecilia Santiago is an excellent young GK and her record in the 3 games she played is fine. I know you think Lisa Cole made a mistake not sticking with her. But she is still not proven at this level and certainly wasn’t at the start of the season.

          • Steglitz49

            It is a truism that you can’t improve unless you play competitive games, games that matter.

            The Mexican federation is a coinvestor with Canada and USA in the NWSL. Mexico were persuaded to increase the number of their allocated players. They sent two goalies. One, their #1 GK, has played 3 matches I can’t remember how long ago, and the other came on as a substitute for a couple of minutes in one match. The GK, as Ms Solo, Kaihori, Angerer and Lykke can testify, is a key position for any NT.

            Boston and Chicago have both let in 31 goals but Chicago are 2 pts ahead. Seattle have 32 and DC 38 goals against them. Of Boston’s 31 goals, Ms Santiago accounts for 3 in 3 games (Won 2, Lost 1) while the other 28 goals in 16 matches have gone in against the other goalies.

            If you are not going to play your allocated GK then, like SB, you have better make sure you get to the play-offs. If on top of that the side-lined goalie happens to be the co-investor’s #1 and has perfectly good stats, it is not a good idea to end up in what the Europeans call the relegation mire.

            I do not know what the coach was thinking but she has done the NWSL a disservice, not to mention Ms Santiago.

          • Craigaroo

            That may all be true but the original point was simply about how well Boston could be expected to do with their initial roster and, as part of that, whether their goalkeeping looked like that of a winning team. It didn’t. Or at best it looked “iffy”.

  • xanthophobe

    I don’t think this was a good move for the Breakers, especially so close to the end of the season. I don’t think their playoff chances are good (I would argue they’re quite poor), but this will likely cause issues resulting in a poor finish. Boston has exceeded my expectations this year–other than LeRoux and HAO, their allocation wasn’t much to write home about (I like Wilkinson, but don’t think she’s all that great. Mitts retired, Leon and Santiago lack professional experience, and Guajardo was/still is kind of an unknown.)

    The goalie situation wasn’t necessarily handled well (in retrospect, taking Brittany Cameron would have been great–maybe even Val Henderson), but at the end of the day, Phillips has been good and pulling in Naeher was great. And I don’t think Santiago is really all that good, but she has WWC experience, so maybe Cole didn’t feel like a goalkeeper was her top priority.

    I think there was definitely something behind the scenes here. Boston has had some great moments this season (the 2-0 win over the Thorns being one)….I’m curious to see how this will unfold.

    • Steglitz49

      Boston lies 4th from the bottom only ahead of Chicago on GD. Boston has a (somewhat) tougher remaining 4 matches than Chicago so could easily finish 3rd bottom. Seattle could, indeed, get above them in which case Boston would be 2nd last. In the French league, the bottom three are relegated and in the other European leagues the bottom two are sent down.

      Only two teams (DC and Chicago) have let in more goals that Boston.

      Thus, your highlighting of the goal-keeping situation is well taken but I disagree with your position. The professional act would have been to have played the allocated goalie, who as you note has WC experience (incidentally, she has played at U20 & U17 as well as for the senior team), steadily for 10-12 matches. If it had not worked, the coach would have had a bargaining chip against the NWSL.
      The reason for this is that Mexican federation had their arms twisted to increase their number of allocated players. Ms Cole would have been a good little trouper. She could in the same meeting have demanded redress for the Mitts debacle. As it is the Mexican FA probably are not best pleased with this and may well have made their views known both to the NWSL and maybe even to the Boston investors. Business, not soccer.

      Given the quality of the Boston squad, they have grossly underperformed. The coach ought to have offered to resign. That might have saved her bacon.

      • Boston Red

        Would you give it up on Santiago? The coach didn’t think an 18 year old keeper was good enough to hang a season of professional ball on. Do you think they wanted to get an extra keeper rather than another position player?

        She isn’t good enough YET.

        • Steglitz49

          Ms Santiago won 2, lost 1 while letting in 3 goals. Ms Naeher won 2, lost 1 and tied 1 with 6 goals, while Ms Philips won 2, lost 5 and tied 4 with 20 goals.

          Thus, there is no evidence that Ms Santiago is not good enough. Ms Naeher was the goalie for one of the world’s top club teams.

          The charge that the coach mishandled a potentially controversial goal-keeping situation seems beyond reasonable doubt. In any case, this is an issue about business, not soccer. Keep your investors sweet.

          • Boston Red

            Wow, you believe that investor issues are more important than on-the-field decisions? Are you sure you live in Europe?

          • Steglitz49

            Women’s soccer the world over is an artificial activity in that it is subsidized. It varies only in who picks up the tab.

            The NWSL is the third time of asking to get a women’s pro-league going in USA. It is make or break. There are three primary actors, to wit the soccer federations of USA, Canada and Mexico. There are also at least eight owners (consortia) chipping in. It is not easy to balance the desires and expectations of those. It is windy at the top of the greasy coaching pole.

            This first season anything goes within reason. Everyone accepts teething troubles. The primary aim is for USA, Mexico and Canada to do well in WC-15.

            The coach was let down by one allocated US player never showing up. Rotter. Looked at from a business side, it is a bargaining chip for next season. Ms Santiago was the same. Had the coach started her for 9 games and the results had been Won 2, Lost 6 and Tied 1, making her back-up would have been uncontroversial, and the coach would have had a second bargaining chip. As it is, Ms Santiago has the best stats, while Boston has leaked an awful lot of goals.

            It is business, not soccer. High time to stock shelves at Stop & Shop or Crosby market. Getting a new coach should be a piece of cake because Boston is a high quality of life town.

      • xanthophobe

        My issue with Santiago is that she’s proven herself to be very inconsistent. I thought her WWC performance was solid at times (England, New Zealand) and incredibly shaky at times (Japan). Her performance in Olympic qualifying didn’t prove her to be a top notch keeper. I think Cole should have given her more of a shot so that she could develop, but I don’t know if any team should be relying on Santiago in net as their top choice. Assuming she gets the nod for the 2015 world cup, I think she’ll be a great keeper.

        I agree that the Mexican federation is probably not pleased. Whereas other positions can be developed with training at a professional level, goalkeepers really need experience in real games (I might be a little biased on this, being a goalkeeper myself) to learn decision making, positioning, etc. It’s a shame Santiago isn’t getting more of a shot, but I understand Cole’s inclination to not have her at #1.

        • Boston Red

          She did get 3 starts, which is more than most back-up GKs got. It would be great if all the allocated players could be full-timers, but there is league to win, after all.

          • xanthophobe

            You’re right in that three starts is pretty good for a backup GK. And I agree about the allocated players…just because the federations and paying those salaries doesn’t mean the coaches need to play them. If the Flash had to play Tajonar instead of Franch, who knows how their season would have gone. It’s similar to how some coaches have some players in different positions than on their national teams…every NWSL franchise needs to make decisions based on what’s best for them.

          • Steglitz49

            The stats (please see elsewhere) suggests that sticking with Ms Santiago would have been a sensible choice.

          • Steglitz49

            Not every team can have a Angerer, Lykke, Kaihori or Hope as starter, and few can have a Fujimoto as alternate.

            Only DC & Chicago have let in more goals than Boston, while Seattle the same. Let’s compare. Details of Boston is elsewhere but I repeat them here for simplicity

            Santiago W2 L1 T0 G=3
            Philips W2 L5 T4 G=20
            Naeher W2 L1 T1 G=6

            Harris W1 L11 T4 G=32 — has signed for Tyresö
            Jones W0 L2 T0 G=5

            McLeod W4 L5 T4 G=23
            Vancil W2 L2 T1 G=7

            Betos W0 L6 T1 G=14
            Kopmeyer W0 L1 T0 G=3
            Solo W5 L3 T2 G=12

            The stats speak for themselves, loud and clear. Pity Ms Santiago that the coach did not understand.

        • romel dias

          I disagree with the inconsistent bit…Santiago has played in a Mexican squad with very raw defenders…and from all the matches I have seen..she has usually come up big and has taken charge of the defense…I am not writing off Naeher and Phillips’ contributions nor taking away credit…but the truth is that this was handled very badly…from the fact that the coach really did not take on a goalkeeper apart from Santiago really seems to point to the fact that she had the coaches confidence….however the manner in which Santiago was pushed to the sidelines seems to suggest that there has to be some outside factor in this fiasco.

  • DFM

    Very poor timing…strong organizations with elite leaders don’t make desperate moves like this…Coach Cole is a quality person and she will bounce back from this…I am a big Breakers supporter (and my sincere hope is that they make the playoffs), yet I can say I don’t support this move in any way shape or form

    • Steglitz49

      Where is there to bounce to? A second tier college?

  • TsovLoj

    Man how come our (Portland) leadership doesn’t have the balls to fire bad coaches?

    • Lorehead

      That’s something the owner will presumably consider after the season is over. Now is not the time.

    • Steglitz49

      Whom would you hire?

      • TsovLoj

        That’s a good question, actually. Not sure I know.

        • Steglitz49

          Dennerby has just returned to managing taking charge of a time-honored Swedish men’s team that dropped out of the top division (as did their ladies’ side also, incidentally) but if the price is right, maybe he would take on the challenge?

          After all coaching all those talents including half of Tobin (which half though? left or right, top or bottom?) must be quite fun. Then there is the Danish WNT manager, who retired after the Euros. A lucky manager might be worth his luck in pesos if not gold.

    • Forgedias

      You know if Cindy Parlowe Cone beats Kansas City on Saturday, people are going to laud her. You might be frustrated if that happens.

      • Steglitz49

        They will laud and magnify the players. In soccer it is the team captain who hoists the trophy.

      • Elaine

        I hope Cindy Parlowe Cone will not insert herself into the game and make dumb-founded decisions.

  • Forgedias

    This is a surprise, this is so late in the season, if they wanted a coaching change then it probably should of happened sooner. The coaching change should of happened at the end of the season, not like this.

    • Steglitz49

      The owners/investors are sending a signal to the incoming coach. Maybe it is a collective signal from all the NWSL investors/owners, including the sponsoring Federations?

      Conspiracy theories apart, it is bad enough for Boston to not get to the play-offs, finishing 3rd from last would not be much fun and finishing 2nd last would be ignominy indeed. With their squad they should have been in the play-offs. As you say, the coach should have been sent packing a long time ago.

      • newsouth

        they can fire and pay a new coach but can’t afford to pay players well. now, how stupid is that? who finishes in what place in the draw doesn’t even matter this year, it matters if it;s a 10 team league next year with a bigger salary cap. portland should win it all, so they can get the playoffs on tv infront of their pack houses. i have no problem with fckc is they can get in sporting park because i think they will draw close to 10,000. that only matters this season. let the coaches finish out the season.

        • Steglitz49

          “Uneasy Lies the Head that Wears a Crown” and all that. Had the German lasses not come home with the Euro-trophy, no doubt Sylvia Neid would have tendered her resignation. The DFB might very well not have accepted it but instead asked her to stay on.

          Meanwhile, Boston could with benefit give the Danish WNT manager a call. Euro-13 was voluntarily his last game in charge. A spell in Beantown might suit him. Failing him, why not give Johan Cruijff a bell?

      • http://www.phasedma.com Anthony

        This is overblown. The Breakers are a contender for that last playoff spot, but that’s all.

        What did people expect? Portland was going to make it. Kansas City was going to make it. WNY was going to make it.

        That leaves one spot. A spot that Seattle, NJ and Boston are/were legitimate contenders for. Never mind Chicago probably is going to finish better than expected.

        The real question was who was going to take that 4th playoff spot. Everything else (with the exception of Seattle) pretty much fell where people expected them to fall.

        Ya. The legitimate expectations of the Breakers was to make the playoffs. The problem is you have 6 teams with legitimate playoff expectations and only 4 spots. Something had to give.

        • Steglitz49

          Few if any gave KC the time of day at the beginning though I have to confess having them and Chicago on my list. It reminded me of Japan in 2011. Well spotted.

          Nevertheless, Boston have not delivered the goods.

          The outgoing coach has a serious beef with NWSL for not getting a replacement for Ms Mitts. ARod also got sidelined and Seattle ought to have been given a replacement. Finally, there was one allocation slot that never got allocated but I can’t remember who got screwed on that one.

          But having let in the 3rd most goals without much playing your allocated goalie seems like digging your own grave.

          • http://www.phasedma.com Anthony

            WNY lost their allocation spot because “Wambach is worth two spots”.

          • Steglitz49

            Bizarre! Do a WR?

          • http://www.phasedma.com Anthony

            Huh?

          • Craigaroo

            A lot of people took notice of KC after the allocations and some of their early signings. It was BEFORE the allocations that people wondered if any players were willing to go there (outside of Becky Sauerbrunn who’s from the same part of the country)

  • newsouth

    stupid move, just like the wps would have made. in this league it matters if you can get past 3 yrs, not if you make the playoffs or win a championship. some of the owners still don’t get it.

    • http://www.phasedma.com Anthony

      Short sighted move? Probably, but the Breakers are one of the organizations that are going to stick around even during the most lean of times. If there is a professional woman’s league expect the Breakers to be part of it.

      In fact when the going gets very tough I would expect the Breakers to have more staying power than the Thorns. The Breakers are in it for the love of the game – The Thorns are in it because they love the game too, but mostly because they see the dollar signs down the road.

    • Cheap Seats

      There has always seemed to be something missing from the mix…. Can’t quite figure it out, but something to do with continuity of the players. Not a talent or skills, but the glue.
      As an executive, I can tell you that things were bad in order to make a change at this time of the season. I am ok with that and it sends a clear message that this is a business, nothing personal.
      On other posts, I continue to support limiting international players in the league for the near future. There is great young talent coming out of the college ranks every year and they should have a better than average opportunity to make a team in their own country before exploring over seas play.
      One more thought….. our home field is an embarrassment for this town, the team, fans and the high level of support for this team. . Boston needs to find a TOP quality venue of the right size (not Gillette). So many issues to list with their current location…. Traffic, parking, one side seating only, seating too far from the pitch, FOOTBALL LINES, one concession area, did I mention parking.

      • Steglitz49

        Entitlement syndrome?

        I am not so bothered by the grid-iron lines, an eye-sore though they are. Beggars can’t be choosers. Your points about the stadium, its layout and the poor parking are more than well taken. Unfortunately, it may be the best compromise, odd as it may seem (though I have spent much time in Boston during the past 30 years, I am not an expert on the soccer facilities in the area, I must confess).

        Your point about limiting foreign players i excellent. Max 2 seems a sensible number given the depth and width of the talent pools of the NWSL member (founding) nations.

      • Silver Frost

        They sell out all home games, which tells me they need a larger venue. What genius in the front office hasn’t figured out that more seats will produce more revenue? The market is there.

      • Boston fan

        The parking situation at Dilboy is atrocious. We were long time season tickets holders who never renewed because of the inconvenience of parking at the new locale. Harvard Alumni stadium was great but I assume it was just too big or expensive or something (and there was one side seating and football lines there too). I’m not sure there are any appropriately sized soccer only facilities in the greater Boston area (BC – no, Tufts – no, Harvard – no).

        • Cheap Seats

          BC is a strong possibility. Decent access, soccer venue although they do have lacross lines on the field currently. Lacking for concessions.
          What about Nickerson where the old Breakers played. Nice venue, not sure what the turf looks like.

      • http://partdeuxphoto.tumblr.com/ Meg Linehan

        I’d say chances are 90%+ for Breakers being gone from Dilboy next season, so there’s that at least.