April 4, 2011

2011 Boston Breakers Preview

Boston Breakers
Tony DiCicco (3rd year)
2010 Record:
10-8-6 (2nd place)
Home Stadium:
Harvard Stadium (Cambridge, Massachusetts)


Goalkeepers (3):
Kelsey Davis, Alyssa Naeher, Ashley Phillips.
Defenders (7):
Liz Bogus, Rachel Buehler, Stephanie Cox, Ifeoma Dieke, Amy LePeilbet, Kasey Moore, Alex Scott.
Midfielders (8):
Jordan Angeli, Leah Blayney, Niki Cross, Leslie Osborne, Elli Reed(R), Katie Schoepfer, Nikki Washington, Keelin Winters(R).
Forwards (5):
Lauren Cheney, Taryn Hemmings, Kelley O’Hara, Kelly Smith, Claire Zimmeck.
(R) denotes true rookie; returning players in bold.
Probable World Cup players:
Buehler, Cox, LePeilbet, Scott, Cheney, O’Hara, and Smith.

Boston returns 14 players from last season’s 2nd place finish (regular season) and that continuity should help them early on. The Breakers also picked up two highly regarded players from Gold Pride’s championship team, Rachel Buehler and Kelley O’Hara.

The Breakers finished very strong in 2010, 9-3-2 over their last 14 matches with two of the losses coming against FC Gold Pride. An overtime loss to Philadelphia meant that the season ended in disappointment, but the team made a lot of progress during the season and looks to be a contender for the title this season.

Goalkeepers: Alyssa Naeher is the number one keeper and she did a fine job over the final two thirds of the 2010 season. She posted a 1.17 goals against average and three shutouts. Heading into this season with a year’s experience under her belt, she should be even better.

There is an outside chance Naeher could be selected to the USWNT for the World Cup, although it looks as though Ashlyn Harris will get the third goalkeeper’s spot right now. Boston’s backup keepers are Ashley Phillips, who was the Breakers starter early last season and Kelsey Davis, who spent time with the Red Stars last season and has been a regular on national junior teams.

Defenders: This could be the best defense in WPS, although a couple of other sides could put up good arguments. The starters are national team players all, with Alex Scott and Stephanie Cox on the outside and Rachel Buehler and Amy LePeilbet on the inside. Buehler comes over from Gold Pride, a team that she helped make the best defensive unit last year. LePeilbet is a two-time defensive player of the year in WPS. Scott, a starter with the English National Team, is one the best offensive outside backs in soccer. Cox is a consistent performer, who rarely makes mistakes.

The problem is that they are so good, they will all be in Germany in June and July, meaning the Breakers lose their entire back line for a good part of the season. Ifeoma Dieke can certainly step right in. She is a member of the Scottish National Team and has excellent speed. Kasey Moore is a two-year veteran of the Breakers, so she is familiar with their system. Liz Bogus is listed as a defender, although her natural position is either attacking mid or forward, so the back line will be rather new to her.

Boston will have to move some of their listed midfielders to play back line. The most likely candidates are Niki Cross, Elli Reed, or Jordan Angeli, all of whom have extensive experience at playing back line. Reed was excellent at outside back for Portland while in college and is one of two rookies to make the squad.

Midfielders: Probably the area that has seen the most changes for Boston is in the midfield. With the retirement of Kristine Lilly, Leslie Osborne will be the experienced leadership in this group. Osborne is a top notch defensive player, and like teammate Rachel Buehler, can be one of the toughest tacklers in the league.

Jordan Angeli is another returnee and was one of the pleasant surprises of the 2010 season. After becoming a starter a third of the way into the season, she scored seven goals, second most on the team. She is a solid defender as well. Nikki Washington is another midfielder that can score. An excellent attacking player from the wing, the former UNC star has been slowed by injuries since 2009.

Another Portland alum, Keelin Winters, will also compete for a starting role at midfield. Winters is a hard worker and has great soccer intelligence. Leah Blayney has played club soccer both in the US and in her native Australia.

Forwards: The forward tandem of Kelly Smith and Lauren Cheney should give opponents all sorts of problems. Smith, who might possibly be the best women’s player in the world not named Marta, is a tough, talented veteran who always seems to make good decisions. She has scored 17 goals over two seasons in WPS while playing through injuries.

Cheney is a strong, young USWNT player. She is at her best receiving the ball with her back to the goal and is always a threat to turn a defender and get off a lethal shot. She can also get a shot off in traffic, a skill not many players have. In addition, Boston picked up Kelley O’Hara, also a member of the USWNT. O’Hara has very good speed and can find the gaps in opposing defenses.

Again, the problem is that many of the forwards will be headed to the World Cup. The other forwards all have limited WPS experience. Taryn Hemmings, Claire Zimmeck, and Katie Schoepfer have seen some WPS action and will be counted on heavily during the other’s absences. Washington might also be a candidate to move up to forward.

Outlook: The only two things standing in the way of this team and a championship are the 2011 World Cup and the other top teams in WPS. Boston will be hit hard by World Cup losses, which could force them down the standings a bit. Other teams will be going through the same thing, but no other team stands to lose both its entire back line and its top three forwards. Really, only Western New York comes close to losing that much talent.

But in any case, Boston should be a playoff team and then it’s just a matter if they can beat the other top teams in the league in a pressure situation. The added speed that O’Hara and Washington will give to this team will help. Certainly, continuity is a plus for the Breakers, having the same coach, the same system, and the same core group of players. If the midfield can come into its own and if Naeher can continue to improve in goal, the sky’s the limit for this team.