With the Portland Thorns and Boston Breakers set to kick off the 2015 NWSL season at Providence Park this Saturday evening, we sat down with Stephanie Yang of The Bent Musket.
1. Who should the Thorns be looking out for on Saturday?
I think Coach Durkin is going to be starting his Brazilian internationals, so I'd look out for Pires in the middle. She's someone who's going to be pulling strings as well as taking her own shots. I'd also keep an eye on Steph McCaffrey who, if she can find that next level now that she's a pro and has a little experience with the full national team under her belt, could help fill the gaps left by Lianne Sanderson and Heather O'Reilly.
2. The Breakers top three goalscorers leave in the off-season. With Jazmine Reeves retiring, Lianne Sanderson returning to England, and Heather O'Reilly in Kansas City, where will the goals come from for the Breakers?
Yeah, that was all just a perfect storm. I think the team will definitely be looking to some combination of McCaffrey and Morgan Marlborough, as well as goals coming out of the midfield through Pires and Ketlen Wiggers, and possibly Stephanie Verdoia. I really like Verdoia and definitely thought she would get that hotly-contested final spot from among the draftees. Durkin might also look to Nkem Ezurike, who he used kind of sparingly last season, but has seen some relatively equal playing time with Marlborough and McCaffrey in preseason.
The Breakers are also hoping to improve on set pieces, I think, with a combination of improved delivery and people like Rachel Wood, Marlborough, Ezurike, and Amy Barczuk crashing the box in some combination. They're all pushing six feet so that might come in handy.
3. On the other end of the pitch, Alyssa Naeher looks as solid as ever, working her way into the USWNT picture and winning Goalkeeper of the Year in 2014, but aside from her solid performances the Breakers' defense have been porous, allowing the most goals in the league. What moves have the Breakers made to resolve this issue, and how does the defense look at this point?
The Breakers defense kind of suffered from a calamity in preseason last year when Kia McNeill had to abruptly withdraw from the team due to coaching commitments at Boston College. They were planning a defense around the pairing of her and Cat Whitehill in central defense, and after she had to leave, the rest of the season was basically Boston's Next Top Central Defender auditions. It settled down a little bit closer to the end of the season and now they're coming into this season with a back line they didn't have to scramble to put together. I think in the trade with FCKC for Kassey Kallman and Marlborough, there was a conscious decision to have Kallman plug that hole as a known entity with a good track record on central defense. Cat Whitehill said at the Breakers kit launch they're very conscious of the problems they had last season. I mean, how could you not be. So you have to think they've been working on tightening it up defensively.
I think Kallman is going to show well, and with Mollie Pathman in her second year now as a wingback she should be more comfortable making contributions from the flanks and tracking back and knowing when to pick her moment to get forward. Maddy Evans is going to be interesting to watch as a converted fullback. She's an attack-minded player who can go pretty hard and I think she'll be trying to set up a lot of combination play while making life difficult for offensive players. Can she manage that for a full 90? We'll see.
A big thanks to Steph for giving us a look into the Breakers this week. For an opposing view of the Thorns vs. Breakers match, be sure to check out her work at The Bent Musket.
Be sure to stay tuned for our continuing coverage of the Thorns' home opener against the Breakers