2014 NWSL season preview: Boston Breakers

Jeff Kassouf April 3, 2014 58

Lianne Sanderson will need to play an even larger scoring role for Boston with Sydney Leroux gone. (Photo Copyright Linehan Photography for The Equalizer)

Change is the operative word in Boston entering the 2014 NWSL season.

Gone is Sydney Leroux, the U.S. women’s national team forward who accounted for 11 of the team’s 35 goals last year.

Lisa Cole is not a part of the organization for the first time since the reincarnation of the Breakers in 2009. She served as an assistant for three seasons in WPS before taking over head coaching duties and guiding the team through WPSL Elite and most of the first season of the NWSL before being fired in August.

And gone is Kia McNeill, who started 21 of 22 games at center back last season. She won’t play this year in order to focus full-time on her studies and job as assistant coach at Boston College.

So the Breakers move forward with coach Tom Durkin, Australia striker Lisa De Vanna – acquired from Sky Blue FC – and hometown acquisition Kristie Mewis, the young U.S. international who can play left back or higher on the wing.

The question for the Breakers – and the challenge for Durkin and player/assistant coach Cat Whitehill – is fitting all the pieces together and making them click. Both Durkin and Whitehill admit that it will take some time for Boston to get on the same page this season. With injuries, rookies getting to camp late and national team call-ups, the first time all the Breakers will be together is in Seattle for the opener on April 13.

“I don’t think we’ll get to really full speed until the second, third, fourth game of the season when we have all of our players for a while,” Durkin said.

De Vanna will be expected to bear some of the scoring burden with the departure of Leroux, but Durkin envisions four or five players stepping up in the goal scoring department.

“We didn’t want to lose (Leroux),” he said. “She’s going to be a hard player to replace. She gave us that breakaway element. She scored 11 goals – Lisa scored five, but I think she can score 12.”

Lianne Sanderson will need to build off of her five goals and seven assists in 2013, and Heather O’Reilly is expected to play in a more advanced role in a formation that’s expected to look a lot like a 4-3-3. There’s also rookie Mollie Pathman, who could push for a starting spot as a third forward.

More than anything, though, the Brazilian-born and U.S.-raised Durkin is preaching possession and high pressure defensively, something Whitehill welcomes.

“Last year we were very direct,” Whitehill said. “We lived and died by the counterattack with Syd’s speed up front. That kind of is why we were really successful in some games and not in other games.”

STRENGTHS

Alyssa Naeher in net continues to get looks in U.S. national team camps and should be solid for the Breakers.  And the midfield is clearly the team’s strongest unit, with O’Reilly’s dangerous play, Sanderson’s technical ability and Joanna Lohman’s calming presence. The plan is to play Kristie Mewis – whose time in preseason has been minimal with a sprained ankle – on the left wing.

QUESTION MARKS

Undoubtedly, the back line is the most fluid area of the field for Boston, with the major question mark revolving around who will play center back alongside Whitehill. Courtney Jones is currently the front-runner and likely starter there for opening day. Jones is versatile enough to play almost anywhere on the field, and she played alongside Whitehill in WPSL Elite. Her former coach at UNC, Anson Dorrance, recommended to Durkin that Jones could be a good center back option in a pinch.

But the fact remains: McNeill isn’t easy to replace.

“No matter what it is going to take a number of games, no matter who we play, for the two center backs to get the understanding that Cat had with Kia,” Durkin said. “We’re just going to have to be very supportive of whoever plays there.”

OUTLOOK

Boston finished fifth in 2013 as the first team outside of the playoffs, but they were level on points with a Chicago team that has gotten considerably better on paper but will have to wait until mid-season for some major reinforcements in Christen Press and Melissa Tancredi. Seattle Reign FC, seventh place finishers in 2013, now look like playoff material. In short, it could be hard for the Breakers to find themselves still playing in late August, but parity is a trademark of the NWSL, so Boston will have opportunities.

POSSIBLE LINEUP


  • guest

    So Mewis had sprained ankle and got call up for USWNT games and Dunn is back from her injury and is not on the roster? Weird…

    • guest

      Dunn is not back 100% – played just 20 minutes just before the team left for the camp and that was the first action since November. Not the time to go to a full national camp and would be unwise to do so.

      • guest

        But is it ok for Mewis to go when she’s not 100%? She didn’t participate in first training with USWNT so I wonder if she will be able to play at all

        • guest

          It’s not like they’d miss her if she can’t play for the NT in these games, serial under performer for them.

          • guest

            my point was that someone could be there instead of her

          • newsouth

            LOL

          • kernel_thai

            The SEALS have an expression “Two is one and one is none” I believe it refers to explosives but may apply to Mewis’ as well.

        • morSOC

          I’m not sure about the timing of her injury as a factor in when USSF knew. Furthermore, was this done so she could be examined/advised by NT medical staff in order to hopefully avoid some of the issues we’ve seen recently. Perhaps the answer is that she is expected to be ready for the second game. If USSF knew prior to the call ups certainly arrangements should have been made for her to consult NT staff while providing an opportunity to some one else. The specter of US Soccer needing to make contractual commitments to those called up x times may be a factor here as well.

          • kernel_thai

            And they called 24 players to suit 18 for two matches so it isnt like they left themselves short handed.

  • Forgedias

    Kind of worried about Syd in Seattle, since they are all about possession as well. Syd is a very north south player. Needs to be played over the top to be effective.

    When Whitehill stated, we lived and died on the counterattack, she wasn’t joking. Either Syd scored, or Boston got shut down. Hopefully they will play a more pleasing looking football. Passing, attacking, activating the midfield into the attack.

    As for Seattle, they better put Syd on the flank if they want to succeed. If she plays as a central forward, she will stifle the possession style of football that Laura Harvey wants to play. She isn’t good at holding the ball up and bringing the attack in the build up.

    • Jigsawwill

      Well… we will see if she can adapt. Harvey is a smart one I’m sure she knows this.

      • Lorehead

        That would be a very good skill to bring to the NT, as well, but pair her with a healthy Alex Morgan and they can have distinct roles.

    • Steglitz49

      Please explain why you think that Seattle should put Syd on the flank when Nahomi and Pinoe can play on either flank. I would play Syd and Bev as the two strikers for Seattle with Pinoe on the left and Homi on the right and some bruiser in the centre of the midfield to stop down any counter-attacks.

      As for Boston, they will be lucky to finish 5th this season.

      • newsouth

        Beverly has proven she can score on short Asians team. I don’t remember her starting the WPS. In fact I don’t remember her. I need to see it to believe it. Otherwise, Morgan/Sinclar/Riley > > > Sydney/Bev/Harvey

        • Steglitz49

          Alex Morgan will not be playing any soon. As for the flanks, my observation was that with Nahomi and Pinoe Seattle does not need Alex on the flanks, unless you propose to play Homi as a striker.

        • Guest

          Everyone who has seen training has said she looks sharp. She’s been in Japan two years. Two years is a long time to get better in the sport and more than a few players have found themselves during a stint overseas. It materializing this season in America would be great, but I wouldn’t poo-poo anything someone does in Japan regardless.The type of goals her highlight reel shows from Japan aren’t Big American Jock hulk smashing the little Japanese type goals. She’s got a good touch, plays well in traffic, and has a super strong shot. A lot should translate in Harvey’s system.

          • Why Always Me

            I’m very interested to see if playing well in the Japanese league translates to playing well in the NWSL. Regardless, I’ll be watching Bev with marked interest, that’s for sure.

          • Steglitz49

            Nahomi for sure looks vertically challenged in the photos with the new kit and standing next to Bev it is even more obvious. Yet, Naho was a key member of the Nadeshikos, so she can’t be too useless.

            As for Bev, with the service that Pinoe and Nahomi will provide, Bev’s strategy could be to head them down for Syd to tuck into the back of the net. Any rebounds and poor clearances Naho and Pinoe will gobble up. Bev might actually not score that many, except from corners and other set pieces.

          • ForeverLOST108

            A strategy for Goebel to head down the ball for the forwards to tuck in the back of the net. Sounds familiar… it just may work.

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2-otm35sPxI

        • ForeverLOST108

          Goebel was typically a sub for WNY at CAM. Though that isn’t a knock against her when their starter was Seger. I still, personally, see Goebel as more of a CAM than a forward.

      • AshleyZ

        I agree, Boston will struggle against Portland, Seattle, KC and others.
        So does anyone know if Rapinoe will be playing as a forward for Seattle then? She’s listed as a forward on their website so I am curious. Will Seattle be playing a 4-3-3?

        • guest

          That seems to be Harvey’s preferred set up. So at full strength the likely attack will be Pinoe, Syd, Nahomi, with Little just behind and Fishlock and Winters as holding mids. Even if they switched to have Syd as an outside forward (which they may have to do when Naho is out during may for World Cup qualifiers) and Bev as the striker they’ve still got a pretty potent attack.

          • Steglitz49

            Nahomi does not usually play in the attack. Her usual role is in AM. Homi can play either flank but if Pinoe prefers the left one, Homi will plough the right one.

            (Incidentally, I am under the impression that Nahomi’s nickname is either Homi or Homie or Homes, but not Naho.)

          • Guest

            Naho is how she is listed in their roster and is her real shortened name from Japan. Homi is what her Reign teammates decided to call her during camp.

          • Steglitz49

            Thank you for keeping me right. What does Nahomi herself prefer? Some prefer their full given names and others don’t mind within reason.

          • Why Always Me

            What little I’ve seen of Syd out wide has been generally unimpressive. I thought Bev could play as a winger? Of course, if Harvey can work her magic, Syd could potentially work on the wings.

          • guest

            There’s all these different toys for Harvey to play with this season to strike the right balance that I’m just looking forward to the ride she takes us on.

    • wosofan

      This is what Leroux needs to learn. She was never challenged to play differently before, certainly not by Pia and not by Jill Ellis. A season with Seattle will hopefully help her game. Frankly, a year in Sweden would do wonders, but that’s never going to happen.

      • Steglitz49

        Syd did not have too bad an Algarve did she? She scared a goal at least.

        • kaiser

          A lucky goal.

          • Steglitz49

            A ridiculous goal — but they all count. And, those, who don’t score, envy them for sure.

          • Guest

            Lucky or a “Syd” goal? Because not a lot of forwards go for confrontations like that. Syd does in that situation and with getting back on defense. That’s an asset. Something she makes happen that others don’t. Not luck.

          • kaiser

            Really?

          • Guest

            I don’t see a lot of forwards even bothering with some of the gritty plays Syd does. She regularly puts pressure on the keeper so the chances she gets “lucky” as you say is a lot higher than forwards that don’t bother expending energy like that. In the very least I’ve often seen her force a keeper to kick the ball out short. That is part of Syd’s style of play and should be a credit to her, not a fluke, since she makes that extra effort every game.

        • Why Always Me

          No one had a good Algarve except the people who missed it, let’s be honest.

          • Steglitz49

            Aya Miyama might disagree with you (and Hope would, probably, support her) but for the USNT, at least Syd had a laugh.

    • Why Always Me

      Syd is young, talented, and has only had one pro season under her belt. See what Harvey can do with her before you worry about whether she screws with the possession game Seattle want to go for.

      • Ben

        This. Don’t be too quick to put a player in a particular box and than seal it short before they even have more than one year of professional experience.

        • Why Always Me

          Yup. Press is far more polished now after years in Sweden than when she first left after the collapse of MLS. I’d argue even Alex still has a lot of potential to grow, especially since she’s with a coach who seems to know what he’s doing this season (the injury is an unfortunate setback, but I remain optimistic).

          • guest

            Syd’ll be fine. She’s working with a great coach who seems to know how to bring the best out of her players.

          • Why Always Me

            I completely agree. Ever the optimist/Syd fan, over here, haha.

          • Guest

            I agree. Nothing quite like playing on a club regularly to develop. Short camps with the national team can’t replicate that daily grind. This is make or break year for Mewis and a few others too. If club play can’t help them get well rounded then…

          • Steglitz49

            Ms Press had the fortune in her first year in Sweden to play for a coach, who was one of the great strikers of his generation — one of the fabled “Boys of ’82″. One has to assume that Christen learnt something from him and probably tons. She was 2nd in the Swedish goal-scoring league.

            Then Ms Press went to play for a team loaded with talent, who could service her. As a result she won the goal-scoring league but maybe, just maybe, that year in Gbg was the greater year. Time will tell.

            Now Chicago and the NWSL awaits, after the Champions League. If Chicago are lucky, Brum will put Tyresö out and the Windy City will get Christen’s services sooner.

      • Forgedias

        Boston did try to possess more last year, Syd wasn’t good at holding the ball up, Cole, the coach at the time, even benched Syd to try to motivate her to play her system, but they couldn’t get much scoring with Syd playing a holding forward role. They had to play the long ball game with Syd at top.

        At least Seattle has quite a few options at front and can play Syd on the flank, Boston couldn’t, she had to be the central forward. Boston lived and died with Syd at top, if she scored, they did well, if she got shut down, then they frequently did not.

        • Why Always Me

          I didn’t watch many Boston games because of the money thing, so I’ll take what you say about them trying to play possession on faith. Still doesn’t change the fact that it was her first pro season and new coach = new opportunities. Let’s wait and see how she does, whether it’s from the middle or out wide.

        • Steglitz49

          It is easy to forget that Boston’s coach was sacked. The only surprising part was that it took the board so long to send her packing.

      • Steglitz49

        Syd is not as young as people think. She will soon be 24 and WC-15 may be her only World Cup.

    • Why Always Me

      That said, regardless of how talented a player is, if their skill set doesn’t fit the system a team is going for, I agree it is probably better in the long run if said player is traded for someone who does fit said system. I’m reminded of an article I read concerning Diego Costa — a talented striker, but with a style that seems a better fit for Athletico Madrid than the Spanish NT team, comprised of Barcelona/Real Madrid players. But that’s also the sign of a great coach, if they can integrate a talented player into their system regardless.

      • guest

        You wouldn’t necessarily expect Fishlock to fit Harvey’s style with her high energy and pretty much covering every square inch of the pitch last year but she was very much the heartbeat of the Reign. She and Syd will provide that extra energy and tempo that the more finessed players don’t.

        • Why Always Me

          Harvey at the very least is excellent at manipulating the NWSL system, and I also have a ton of respect for the way she managed to pull her team out of its tailspin after an abysmal first half of a first season. At the moment I very heartily trust Harvey’s abilities and believe that it will spell good things for Syd.

          • guest

            Agreed. I would add also that Harvey is a very smart lady and she wouldn’t have put so much time and energy into getting syd if she didn’t feel she would fit into the playing style of the team.

    • kernel_thai

      I think playing Syd in the center is a much better use of her than the NT makes of her. She uses her body well and is good with her head. Her weakness there would be passing the ball back out of the middle. Out on the wing u have to deal more with her awful first touch as well as passing woes.

      • Steglitz49

        Syd, like Alex, is fast. She may be even faster than Alex. That is an asset in counter-attack but given how good on paper Seattle are, except for against the odd team, counter-attacking will not be a big part of their game.

  • Wear Nikes Drink Gatorade

    A couple things:
    -Boston also won’t have Nogueria and Simon this year. Combined with the loss of Leroux, they have lost almost half their goalscoring from last year (17 of their 35 goals).
    -Sanderson is again a regular for England. She won’t be available for all their games, as she was last year.
    -Kyle was awful in midfielder for Seattle last year. Swapping her for Moscato was not that lopsided of a deal, especially after McNeill (unexpectedly) decided to take this season off.
    -Mewis needs to actually produce, for once.
    -Jones is at least gives them some speed at center back, if she plays there. She might be poor in that position, but they were awful there to begin with (and McNeill wasn’t that good to begin with).
    -Boston hasn’t really improved their defense (the team’s weakness), and their offense (the team’s strength) has regressed. They will, in all likelihood, be one of the worst two teams in the league this season.

    • Guest

      I agree about Kyle. It’s too bad her NT direction isn’t towards the backline because she showed more promise there than in the midfield at club level. Enough that as a Seattle fan I wouldn’t have minded her sticking around had they kept her out of the midfield. Goodluck to Boston with that.

  • Rdalford

    Jeff thanks for the NWSL team(s) preview articles.

    Re Boston agree they are very unlikely to be in the playoffs. Trade for De Vanna was a positive step and young draft picks may have potential for future. The loss of Kia McNeill and failure (so far) to sign CB with experience leaves only Whitehill and recently converted forward as CB’s which is unlikely to be sufficient over full season.

  • RockyRaccoon

    Hahahaha….I love how 90% of the comments are about the Seattle Reign and not about the Breakers. IMO…the Breakers will struggle to score specially while Devanna is away at qualifiers….Boy am I glad I’m not a Breakers fan.

  • kernel_thai

    I see them middle of the pack. Regardless what the coach wants DeVanna is most effective on the counter. She will get a boost from Sanderson’s passing tho. They need to get some goals from their young forwards. Im not sure their defense wins too many 1-0 games even if Naeher stands on her head.