April 7, 2010

Boston Breakers 2010 - Improvement Everywhere

Coach: Tony DiCicco
2009 Record: 7-9-4 (5th place)
Postseason: Out of the playoffs.

Returnees (9): Fabiana, Amy LePeilbet, Kristine Lilly, Allison Lipsher, Kasey Moore, Ashley Phillips, Alex Scott, Kelly Smith, Maggie Tomecka.
Draft Choices (4): Lauren Cheney, Alyssa Naeher, Jordan Angeli, Taryn Hemmings.
LA Dispersal Draft (1): Stephanie Cox.
International Signings ( 2): Laura Del Rio, Sarah Walsh.
Free Agents (6): Liz Bogus, Leslie Osborne, Tiffany Weimer, Chioma Igwe, Analisa Marquez, Claire Zimmeck.

If you’re a Boston fan, you certainly can’t accuse Breakers’ management of standing still. After a disappointing 5th place finish and missing the playoffs on the final day of the regular season, the Breakers made a lot of moves designed to make this team a playoff contender. They started by trading Amy Rodriguez to Philadelphia to move up in the draft. With the two picks they got from Philly, they selected Lauren Cheney and Alyssa Naeher. They were aggressive in the domestic market, signing several free agents including Leslie Osborne (Gold Pride), Tiffany Weimer (Gold Pride), Chioma Igwe (Chicago), and Liz Bogus (Los Angeles). They also added two international forwards in Laura Del Rio and Sarah Walsh.

But maybe the most fortuitous move happened as a result of the LA dispersal draft. Just when it looked like the Breakers might be a little thin on defense, they were able to obtain Stephanie Cox. Indeed, the Breakers may have improved themselves across the board more than any other team in WPS.

Goalkeeping-Boston returns starting goalkeeper, Allison Lipsher, from their 2009 team. Lipsher took over starting duties midway through the season and posted 5 shutouts over the last 11 matches of the season. She is certainly capable of handling the starting duties, but Boston drafted insurance in the person of Alyssa Naeher of Penn State. Less than two years ago, Naeher led the US U-20 team to the world championship in Chile, giving up just one goal in 5 starts. Now, at just 21 years old, she will challenge Lipsher for the starting position. It gives Breakers’ coach Tony DiCicco a pleasant problem. Ashley Phillips returns as the developmental keeper.

Defenders-Boston held opponents to only a goal a game last season and the Breakers have two of the top back line players in WPS in English international Alex Scott and USWNT defender Amy LePeilbet. Scott proved to be one of the top offensive backs in the league in 2009 and LePeilbet’s center back play is as solid as it comes. Boston did lose three key players from last year in Heather Mitts, Sue Weber, and Candace Chapman. But what looked like a problem was largely solved as the Breakers were able to obtain USWNT defender Stephanie Cox in the dispersal draft. Cox is one of the most underrated backs in WPS. She quietly and efficiently gets the job done and can play inside or outside.

Boston will probably move Kasey Moore to the back line after she spent much of last year playing defensive midfielder. The Breakers also added Santa Clara defender, Jordan Angeli, with a 2nd round selection in January. Likely Moore and Angeli will compete for the 4th spot on the back line. With 3 of their 4 backs having extensive international experience, it’s a safe bet that this will be one of the top defensive units in the league.

Midfielders-The Breakers have a couple of soccer legends in the midfield with Kelly Smith and Kristine Lilly. The only question on Smith is whether Coach Tony DiCicco will position her as a forward or midfielder. In the end, it probably doesn’t matter because Smith is one of the world’s most dangerous offensive players, no matter what position she plays. Even battling persistent knee problems, she still managed to rack up 6 goals and 2 assists in 2009. Meanwhile, Lilly has just added to her mind-boggling USWNT cap total. Now in her 4th decade with the US National Team, she shows no signs of slowing down. Last year, she scored 3 goals and added 3 assists for the Breakers.

The loss of USWNT midfielder Angela Hucles to retirement was certainly a blow to Boston. The big addition for the Breakers at midfield is Leslie Osborne, obtained as a free agent from Gold Pride. A tough defender, Osborne should solidify the Breakers’ middle. Additionally, Boston returns Maggie Tomecka, who made last year’s team as a free agent and came on strong at the end of the year. Young Brazilian attacking mid, Fabiana, was a consistent starter down the stretch, but had no points to show for her efforts. The Breakers signed former Red Star Chioma Igwe for depth at both midfielder and defender. Indeed, depth may be the only concern with this group…that and a recurrence of Smith’s knee problems.

Forwards-The Breakers scored only four goals in their last 8 games in 2009. As a result, they did a complete overhaul of their front. Moving up in the draft enabled Boston to draft Lauren Cheney. Cheney led UCLA to the NCAA semifinals last fall, but more notably, she has already scored 5 goals for the USWNT in 2010. Cheney is excellent at making a turn with a defender on her back. And unlike some goal scorers, Cheney also does a good job of setting up teammates.

The second major addition was that of Laura Del Rio, a striker from the Spanish National Team. Last year, she scored 18 goals in just 11 games for FC Indiana of the W-League. Del Rio gives Boston a nice 1-2 punch. A second international, Sarah Walsh, scored just one goal in WPS last season while splitting time between Sky Blue and Saint Louis. However, leg injuries slowed her and she appeared to be rounding into form by the time she hit the Aussie W-League in the fall. Another free agent signing, Tiffany Weimer, has great ball skills and is one of the more creative players in the league. Further depth includes veteran Liz Bogus, draft pick Taryn Hemmings, and former Freedom striker Claire Zimmeck.

Summary-In spite of being shut out 3 straight games, Boston held the 4th playoff spot with just 30 minutes to go in the 2009 season. The fact that it slipped away from them means that the first order of business is rebuilding the Breakers’ confidence. A healthy Kelly Smith and the addition of several talented players should go a long way in doing that.

The Breakers have improved themselves in every area, from goalkeeper to forward. The additions of Naeher, Cox, Osborne, Del Rio, Weimer, and most especially, Lauren Cheney, leads me to believe that this team could compete for the title. My main concern is depth at defense and midfield. If the Breakers can escape the hangover of last year’s finish and stay relatively healthy, they should be able to challenge any team in WPS.