On Saturday afternoon, the Boston Breakers took on the Washington Spirit in a clash of teams that have been searching for a solid identity for much of the season. Both squads had major shakeups before the 2017 NWSL season began, and are at the point where they have to decide if this year is about progress and rebuilding, or unproductive stasis.
Finding their way
The Breakers went into this game with a tough injury report, even though Allysha Chapman featured in the starting XI after being listed as doubtful earlier this week. Both teams’ continued absences have hobbled their ability to show their full potential, with Rose Lavelle out again for Boston, and Franny Ordega missing again for Washington. However this mutual disabling gave both teams a chance to try things out against each other, and see how they squared up against similar competition.
The scoring in this game started quickly, when in the 7th minute the Spirit’s Estelle Johnson was able to work her way behind the Boston back line and take a shot at Boston keeper Abby Smith. Smith was able to make the initial save, but Johnson followed up on the rebound to put Washington up 1-0. This set the standard for Washington’s play, and they kept high pressure on the Breakers throughout the first half, forcing the home team to extend themselves in defense.
However, that kind of pressure proved unsustainable, and after a tough first 20 minutes the Breakers were able to work themselves into the game. Boston also heavily relied on the stellar play of Smith, who has recently gotten looks with the USWNT, to keep them in the game when their defense had gotten stretch thin, for example in the 37th minute when young upstart Mallory Pugh got a good look on goal saved by the keeper.
It looked like the half was going to end in a 1-0 advantage for the visiting squad, but in the 44th minute, Tiffany Weimer was able to send a well-weighted ball to Katie Stengel, who’s shot was blocked but Adriana Leon followed up with to send the ball into the back of the net, locking the first half score at 1-1.
An even match
After the offensive flurry of the end of the first half, the second half started off somewhat slowly, until play slowed around the 64th minute, allowing Estefania Banini to send a ball in towards Smith, who couldn’t get a hand on it, and Cheyna Williams was there to head it in to an open net. It looked at that point like Boston had possibly been sunk, but Smith continued to keep her team in it with a series of great saves as the game went on, and Boston was able to capitalize in the 79th minute as Midge Purce sent a ball to Ifeoma Onumonu, who got the ball to Leon to tap in the equalizer.
The game ended with a flurry of activity in the Boston defensive end, but the Breakers’ defense was ultimately able to hold firm. Pugh in particular had some good looks as the final minutes of the game drained out, but this one correctly ended 2-2, with neither team exacting any sort of dominance on the other. This game probably ended with as many questions as answers for both squads, but both teams looked dangerous, and with potential to play spoiler as the 2017 NWSL season comes to a close.