Match Preview: Breaking Down Boston
Opponent: Boston Breakers (2-1-0)
When: Sunday, May 7th @ 6:00 pm
Where: Jordan Field, Boston MA
How to Watch: (In USA) go90 app or go90 website, (Internationally) NWSL website
On Sunday the number one North Carolina Courage (3-0-0) will travel to Boston to take on the second place Breakers (2-1-0). This game will likely determine ownership over the top ranking in the NWSL and will mark Boston’s third consecutive home game. The Breakers are riding a two-game home winning streak after beating Sky Blue FC and the Seattle Reign, both of whom the Breakers had never before beaten in their four-year history as a team. The Breakers will have an opportunity to ride their new-found scoring prowess to a third straight “first ever” if they can knock off the Courage, who have yet to lose a game in the team’s short history. The Courage look to become just the third team in NWSL history to start the season with 4 consecutive wins behind the best offense and defense in the league so far. No team has generated more shots, allowed fewer goals, or maintained a higher possession percentage than the Courage during the 2017 season. Boston is the only team out of the 8 original NWSL teams that has yet to make a playoff appearance, but they managed to acquire 4 of the top-9 picks in the 2017 NWSL draft, using their first overall selection on Rose Lavelle who scored her first goal of the season last week in the 3-0 win over the Seattle Reign. Second year goalkeeper Abby Smith, who only played 2 games in her rookie year due to injury, has managed to rack up 15 impressive saves in the first three games of the year. Still, she will have her work cut out for her on Sunday, as the Courage have managed to put 25 shots on goal already. Led by Lynn Williams and Jess McDonald, two of the most accomplished forwards in the history of the league, the Courage front line is bigger and faster than anyone else’s in the league. The addition of Brazilian national team player Debhina has added an element of dynamic playmaking in the middle that has opened up space for Williams and McDonald to find easy shots on net.
Analyzing the Matchup
Boston defense vs Courage front line
The Boston defense has struggled to connect passes and can be forced into dangerous turnovers when under pressure, and Abby Smith has been known to play dangerous balls when the defense breaks down. This plays perfectly into the high-press system that NC coach Paul Riley demands from his forwards. Unlike Seattle, the Courage forwards constantly poke and prod the defenders why they try to build possession from the back. This should lead to multiple easy opportunities for Debhina and Sam Mewis in the middle of the pitch due to errant passes. The Breakers defense has also been susceptible to inside runs from speedy defenders, with Amy Rodriguez beating the defense repeatedly in Boston’s opening-day loss to the FCKC Blues. Their task won’t be any easier when they face the two fastest forwards in the NWSL, and Abby Smith will have to pull off more magic against free shots this weekend. Finally, the Breakers play a flat-four defensive look with Alyssa Chapman moving aggressively up the left flank. Many times she gets caught up-field and leaves the central defenders isolated against two forwards, which is where the Courage offense thrives.
Conclusion: Advantage Courage
Boston midfield vs Courage midfield
The Courage play with effectively 5 midfielders: Debhina at the top, Doniak and Hinkle (even though she is technically a defender) on the wings, and Mewis and Zerboni anchoring the center. The Breakers are much more free-flowing with their positions, but the 4 midfielders have started to gel over the last 2 weeks in their flexible roles. Rose Lavelle roams the front line looking for opportunities to serve the ball, but the lack of structure has shown in their to maintain possession over the first three games. The Courage have a significant height advantage over the Breakers, who will have trouble controlling long passes from the back line, and the Courage tend to be better at making space than the Breakers, who often find themselves jumbled in the center. That said, the individual ball-handling of Boston as a group probably outweighs the technical abilities of the Courage, and they have managed to find plenty of shot opportunities despite the lack of possession. The one wildcard in the match will be the weather. A wet, windy turf field will heavily favor the Breakers’ style of play, and could tip the favor of the game their direction if the worst-case scenarios play out. This will definitely be a battle between two polar-opposite styles of midfield play, although both teams have found success this season.
Conclusion: Slight Advantage Courage
Courage defense vs Boston front-line
Abby Erceg of the New Zealand national team is a tall, dominant defender anchoring the Courage defense, while Dalhkemper and Kawamura are excellent at facilitating play up the wings. There have been times on possession changes when having just three permanent defenders has allowed opponents easy shots in space, but the midfield usually plays enough interference to prevent this. The Breakers forwards have been excellent at forcing turnovers and bad passes from defenders, and then passing the ball inside the 18-yard box to find shots. Boston plays a very similar attacking game as the Thorns do, who the Courage beat 1-0 at home two weeks ago, but there were definitely times when the defense broke down in transition and the Thorns created opportunities. In all, this will probably be the worst matchup for the Courage because of the fluid nature of Boston’s attack.
Conclusion: No Advantage
While it is always hard to win on the road and the weather looks particularly nasty in Boston on Sunday, the Courage still hold the advantage and should come away from the game with 3 points. The Courage have been absolutely dominant in terms of possession through their first three games, and while Boston will undoubtedly find some shooting opportunities, their speed and physicality should allow for the Courage to control the game. While a 1-1 draw wouldn’t be the most surprising final scoreline, I would put my money on a 2-0 Courage win. I don’t think the Boston defensive line will have any success controlling the amazing prowess of McDonald and Williams, and I think they will turn the ball over a bit too much to pose a prolonged threat.