They were so close. Just a few more minutes and the Breakers would have taken their fourth draw in seven matches – far from spectacular, but not disastrous. Rookie Jordan Angeli had put the home side ahead in the first half. After a bevy of chances for each team in the second half, Heather O’Reilly equalized for Sky Blue FC. Head Coach Tony DiCicco likely would have happily taken the point. But it didn’t happen. Boston got called for a foul in the box in the 90′. Rosana stepped up to the spot. Sky Blue 2, Boston Breakers 1. Game over.
It was an eerily similar circumstance to the one that sunk the Breakers’ 2009 season. Boston needed a result to qualify for the play-offs and looked on their way to doing so. But then they conceded a late penalty. Marta – yet another Brazilian – stepped up to the spot. Los Angeles Sol 2, Boston Breakers 1. Season over.
Hopefully Sunday’s match won’t have the same ramifications this year.
After eight matches, the Breakers have only won one. And that win came back in the first game of the 2010 season. That game against the Freedom also marks the last time Lauren Cheney scored. Since then the Breakers have managed three losses and three draws. This has been mentioned a hundred times already but it bears repeating.
So why have the Breakers’ season gone so awry?
This is a team that arguably has the most passionate fans in the league. As indicated on Twitter and elsewhere, Breakers fan appear to be more knowledgeable and invested in their team than any other WPS fan base. And the attendance figures bear that out: next to Atlanta with its inflated average from its home stadium debut, Boston still leads the league in attendance with a very respectable average of 5,109 per match. To put that into perspective, that’s almost 1,000 more fans per game than the league average of 4,233. And they’re the only WPS team that has consistently increased their average from both the season average and season median of 2009.
But the off-the-field accomplishments haven’t appeared to translate into on-the-field success. Boston must be the most frustrating team in WPS. To be fair, Atlanta has set the benchmark for what a struggling team looks like. Chicago has had to endure a major turnover of players and a coaching chang but appear to be on the ups after a three-match unbeaten run.
That leaves Boston. The team with a coach who has won World Cups at both the U-20 level and of course with the ’99ers. The team with a striker that came into the WPS Draft with such lofty expectations following a breakout performance in the 2010 Algarve Cup and a terrific collegiate career at UCLA. The team with the evergreen winger who also happens to be a living legend in the world of women’s soccer. The team with perhaps England’s best-ever female player. And finally, the team anchored by the best central defender in WPS and two of the best outside backs in the world.
That’s the team that is struggling so mightily?
It’s not like Boston are getting thumped by teams. They’ve only been shut once all season. And they have created solid chances for themselves along the way. It’s just finishing them off that seems to be the problem.
Another angle that can’t be overlooked is Lauren Cheney’s lack of productivity so far. A reader John mentioned that Cheney is getting overwhelmed by opposing full backs and is thus losing possession too easily. Cheney’s skill set lies primarily in her physical attributes. When defenders know how to take away her physical advantage by disallowing her space to operate, her threat is mitigated. Perhaps she does so well on the USWNT because she has Abby Wambach – another very physical player with an imposing frame – to help share the load with.
Moreover, they’re the second most fouled team in the league behind Washington. And of the eight most fouled players in the league, Boston has three. Kelly Smith leads the way with Leslie Osborne and Lauren Cheney in the mix as well.
So is it lack of team chemistry? Are opposing teams too physical with them? Is it DiCicco’s difficulties with (wo)man management? Is it a lack of new ideas?
Lindsay Tarpley should help alleviate Cheney. Laura del Rio and Tiffany Weimer have seemingly been unable to do so. Also, the exclusive word from the team is that Liz Bogus and Claire Zimmeck were waived and released respectively “to make room for roster changes…that will likely be filled soon”.
From the sound of it, it certainly appears that the team has recognized that changes need to be made. And quickly. But with the paucity of strikers and midfielders on the open market, it’s a mystery as to who they have in mind unless they shock everyone with the signing of a big international name (come on, Louisa Necib!).
In the immediate future, Leslie Osborne is expected to miss Boston’s next game away to FC Gold Pride this Saturday. It’s entirely sensible to chalk that up as a loss. After that Boston hosts the much-improved Red Stars before heading to Philadelphia on Independence Day. If the Breakers still can’t manage a win in those three matches, would it be entirely unreasonable to think that it might be time for a change of leadership?