The Portland Thorns return to JELD-WEN Field on Saturday evening as they play host to the Boston Breakers in their first meeting of the season (7:30pm PT, Freedom 970, webstream: www.portlandthornsfc.com). Here is the lowdown on the opposition.
A brief history…
Originally founded over a decade ago, the Boston Breakers is the oldest women’s professional soccer team in the United States. Over the course of their existence, they have played in the WUSA, the WPS and, now, the NWSL – and they have always been a strong force on the East Coast.
A club that works hard in the local community, Boston regularly host youth soccer camps and they have some of the most passionate supporters in the league with a fan group known as The Riptide getting behind them. On and off the pitch, Boston is a club that prides itself on always aiming for high standards.
Where do they play their home games?
Previously, Boston played at Harvard Stadium, but now they play at the Dilboy Stadium, which is a 2,000-seater facility based in the Somerville suburb in Massachusetts. Surrounded by a running track, the pitch is made of synthetic turf – similar to JELD-WEN Field – and it is used for various sports since being redeveloped in 2006.
What players have they recruited?
In the NWSL Player Allocation, Boston picked up United States women internationals Sydney Leroux, Heather O’Reilly and Heather Mitts (who has since retired), while Mexican pair Cecilia Santiago and Anisa Guajardo also joined for their debut season in the newly-formed league. Other notable pick-ups included Canadian pair Carmelina Moscato and Rhian Wilkinson, plus goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher.
How have they fared so far?
It has been a good, if not great, season so far for Boston with a record of 4-5-4 from 13 league games. With 21 goals netted, they are joint-third in the scoring stakes, while they have conceded 22 times with only one clean sheet registered (at home to Washington Spirit on May 25). The results tell a story of inconsistency, but there is a lot more to come from this team.
Head Coach: Lisa Cole
Associated with Boston for the last three years, Cole stepped up to the head coaching position with the support of players and club officials. A goalkeeper during her playing days, she has proved to be a shrewd coach and made the most of her time at college level with the University of Mississippi, University of Connecticut, University of Rhode Island, and Flordia State University. Now, she is making waves with Boston in their debut NWSL campaign.
Star Player: Sydney Leroux
A key player for the United States women’s team, this 23-year-old attacker is dynamic, exciting and unpredictable. Whether she is playing in midfield or up front, the UCLA graduate tends to have a big impact on games as her passing is precise, her runs are well-timed and her tricky can outwit even the most experienced defender. A real leader, Leroux is someone whom Boston relies on to be a game-winner.
One To Watch: Kia McNeill
Often under-rated, but never under-valued by her team mates, McNeill is someone who knows what is expected at this level and delivers on a consistent basis. The Connecticut native has experience of playing in Sweden, Russia, and the now defunct WPS. A defender who reads the game well, she works well at organizing the backline and can be a foil for some of the league’s best strikers.
What can the Thorns expect?
Similar to a lot of teams in the league, Boston set up in a 4-3-3 system with their focus on transitioning defense into attack quite quickly. Yet, their tactics can often be summed up in: get the ball to Leroux as often as possible. While that has proved to be effective in a lot of games with the star attacker netting a team-high eight goals, it can also become very predictable for opposing teams to defend against.
However, when they click as a cohesive unit, Boston can be a very difficult team to handle. With their outside backs regularly getting forward, they use the width of the pitch well and try to get the ball into the opposition’s penalty area. In midfield, O’Reilly is a driving force with her running, passing and shots from distance, which is a strength that the team uses to their advantage.
Who are their main threats?
The obvious danger is Leroux, who can spark a game to life and leave defenders on their backside once she hits top speed. But the key to restricting her influence is not to mark her tightly, but to shut off the service to the quicksilver fast forward. If she is starved off service up front, then Leroux will drop deeper and further away from the opposition’s goal thus taking her goalscoring threat away.
Boston can also turn to players like Lianne Sanderson to lead the line and Mariah Nogueira to provide creativity in midfield, while Kathryn Schoepfer is a real livewire with the ball at her feet. In open play, this is a team that can cause the Thorns a lot of problems as they look to stay on the front-foot and push the opposition back inside their own half of the pitch.
Where are they most vulnerable?
With only one clean sheet registered this term, it is clear that Boston has challenges in defense. Even though the likes of McNeill and Cat Whitehill are solid defenders, they can only do so much if the backline does not work together. Changes have been made in recent games with former Thorns player Jazmyne Avant coming in, but there is still a lot of work to do before they tighten up completely.
As always with a team that plays a 4-3-3 system, there is a huge onus on the midfielders to be two-way players – meaning that they can work just as well defensively as they do in attack. In that regard, there is reason to be concerned as O’Reilly, who has three goals and four assists, works best going forward and they are missing someone who can break up opposition counter-attacks.
Did You Know?
Boston defender Jazmyne Avant played 212 minutes for the Thorns over four games this season before the 23-year-old made the switch to Boston.
Gareth Maher is a contributing writer to PortlandThornsFC.com. He is a frequent writer about soccer for the Irish Daily Mail in Dublin as well as ESPNFC.com.