7 Goals from 7 Breakers Deliver a Win for New Coach Matt Beard
For three 30-minute periods, the Boston Breakers set to work putting new skipper Matt Beard's Liverpudlian theories into practice, with mostly good results. The former Liverpool Ladies boss seemed eager to establish a controlled high press, loudly commanding his midfielders forward to collapse on unlucky Northeastern University women stranded against the sidelines. Though they never overlapped in tenure on Merseyside, one wonders how much Beard's tactics may have in common with the new men's manager at Liverpool, Jürgen Klopp. As with Klopp's men, the results will take some time to stabilize, but there was much to like in the 7-0 friendly to open the preseason.
The Breakers had a busy offseason, collecting a few new players desired by their new Boss. At least three of the new signings have history with Beard, including USWNT regular Whitney Engen. Engen's 2013 was spent anchoring the center defense for Beard at Liverpool, and it seems apparent that she'll take on a leadership role now that she's in Boston. She's very vocal on the pitch, directing traffic and providing outlets and slick passes to the midfield. Her connection with Kassey Kallman and new Breakers Angela Salem and McCall Zerboni in particular stood out.
Being preseason, Beard clearly had some practice pitch ideas he wanted to see put into live action. He called at times for players to hold up play, keep possession and retreat to regroup through the back four. Acquiescence to his shouts was uneven, but ball movement was good when the players heeded his wishes. It's also an obvious point of emphasis for him to get his new side to play more one-touch ball. Zerboni especially handles this charge nicely, knowing where she wants to go with a pass prior to it arriving and getting herself ready to redistribute. It would have been nice to see her two-year partnership with fellow former Portland Thorn Sinead Farrelley on display for Boston. Regrettably, the latter didn't see the field—instead cocooning herself in a chic Lebowski-esque poncho/blanket, hat and dark glasses ensemble one hopes will help to heal whatever illness or injury kept her off the teamsheet.
Goals arrived both through the run of play and through set pieces. Kristie Mewis opened her 2016 account by directing former Liverpool Ladies midfielder Louise Schillgard's pass into the net after a bit of hold up skill off her chest. Katie Schoepfer added one directly from the near corner when Northeastern's keeper Nathalie Nidetch couldn't punch clear of the far post, sending a ricochet into the netting.
Early in the second period, the best connecting passes of the night saw a Stephanie McCaffrey pass find the feet of Morgan Marlborough with her back to goal at the top of the box. The tall forward calmly spun and pushed the lead to three. Julie King and recent draft pick Brittany Ratcliffe also netted before the end of the period.
Rachel Wood headed home a corner to open the third period to give the team a 6-goal cushion. The final score arrived courtesy of undrafted free-agent invitee Elise Krieghoff, who pounced on a ball Nidetch had briefly spilled in front of her and directed it past the prostrate keeper as snow flurries began to fall. Krieghoff is in town fighting for a roster spot and contract, one of many unpaid players hoping for a chance to play in the NWSL. Jaime Goldberg of the Oregonian had an article on this tough reality last week. It's well worth a read.
Several more goals were in the offing, but Nidetch stood strong for Northeastern and deserves credit for keeping the scoreline under control. At the other end, Jami Kranich had little to trouble her for the full 90 minutes, making a few saves and connecting well with the various iterations of the back four.
An aerial collision between the heads of Angela Salem and a Northeastern player late in the match produced an unsettling audible knock. Those two are going to have a headache today. Ouch.
The team looks stronger on individual skill than some former iterations, and Beard seems intent upon developing a side confident in single touch play. Mewis, Marlborough and Schoepfer seem fit and willing, and new arrivals Zerboni, Engen and Salem seem to be mature professionals ready to push the team forward in the league. McCaffrey was a bit uneven and may take some time to adapt to her new manager's style, but did make several nice runs and provided the final pass for Marlborough's goal in the second period. Australian Kyah Simon is due to camp this week after time well spent guiding the Matildas to an Olympic berth.
The Breakers head to Florida on Wednesday for a quick training trip in the sun. They'll face Florida State University on March 25th, and take on Florida's Elite Soccer Academy (boys U16/U17 I believe) on March 30th. On April 8th, Boston College hosts the Breakers in their final warm-up match before the opener away at the Washington Spirit on April 16th. The home opener is Sunday, April 24th at 6:30, when the Seattle Reign and USWNT Keeper Hope Solo come to town. Follow @herpitch for all the latest.