A potential heartbreaker: Boston Breakers season preview

Brendon Thorne

The Breakers have lost two of their defenders, one to an injury and one to retirement. Can they put together a successful season after enduring two major setbacks?

The Boston Breakers are one of the favorites to win the inaugural NWSL title after assembling an excellent squad, though their defense looked a bit shaky in their only preseason game against NWSL competition. They equalized twice against Sky Blue in the game, but lost on winner by Sophie Schmidt. The Breakers used a 4-4-2 formation in that game, and they should continue utilizing it going forward.

While most teams have experienced some preseason setbacks, the Breakers got hit with worse news than most early in the year. College draft pick Casey Short has suffered an ACL injury that is likely to end her season. Another member of the defense, Heather Mitts, recently announced her retirement from the sport.

At the age of 16, Santiago set a record as the youngest goalkeeper to ever appear in a World Cup.

The Goalkeepers

At the age of 16, Cecilia Santiago set a record as the youngest goalkeeper to ever appear in a World Cup. As Boston enters the NWSL in April, Santiago will be 18, and joins Boston from Mexican club Santos Laguna.

Ashley Phillips rejoins the Breakers after completing a successful run with the team in previous seasons. She joined the Breakers as a developmental player in 2009 only to be promoted as a starting keeper in 2010. Before playing for the Breakers, Phillips was a starting goalkeeper for Clemson University. In her junior season she recorded 119 saves, and finished her career 326 saves in total, plus a 1.09 GAA and 22 shutouts. Her other soccer experiences include playing for the WPSL Boston Aztecs in 2009, and the W-League Boston Renegades from 2002-2006. She spent a short period with the Atlanta Silverbacks and recorded five shutouts in six matches.

Colleen Boyd played as a goalkeeper for Oregon State University. She received 69 starts and recorded 27 shutouts. In the four years she spent in the net she only allowed 57 goals, and recorded her lowest GAA during her junior year at 0.56. She made 252 career saves and helped the Beavers win 37 matches. Following her collegiate career, Boyd went on to play for the Western New York Flash in their WPSL Elite season. She is listed as a reserve by the Breakers.

The Defenders

Boston and the Chicago Red Stars have one thing in common: they don't like change. The Breakers have returned Julie King, a member of their 2012 WPSL Elite campaign. King is a strong defender from Auburn University and stands at 5'9", which should help her compete with some of the NWSL's taller forwards.

King should play alongside Cat Whitehill in the center of the Breakers' defense. Whitehill and King are experienced players and should mesh well with their fullbacks, likely Kia McNeill on the left and Rhian Wilkinson on the right.

For nearly a decade, Hermann Trophy winner Whitehill was a regular fixture for the United States national team, racking up over 100 caps. During her stint with the Washington Freedom in 2009, Whitehill played in every match of the season and recorded three goals. She should be one of the league's top defenders and is a scoring threat on set pieces as well.

McNeill has previously played for the Atlanta Beat and the Philadelphia Independence. In 2010, as a defender for the Independence, she started in all 17 games of their season. During her stint with St. Louis Athletica, she contributed to a back line that was second in both goals allowed and shutouts during the 2009 WPS season.

The likely star of Boston's back line is Canadian international Rhian Wilkinson. She's a very strong tackler and adept at picking the ball off her opponents. She's also impressive going forward, and is likely to combine and overlap frequently with Heather O'Reilly.

Shortly after the opening season roster was released, the Breakers camp reported that Bianca D'Agostino injured her ACL. Fortunately, she will not miss the entire season. D'Agostino is a fierce player who has spent most of her career as a midfielder, but she could take over the starting left back spot when she returns from injury.

Tn the three years she spent at Wake Forest, D'Agostino accumulated 7 goals and 13 assists while appearing in 68 matches. Since her departure from college she has played for the Altanta Beat and the Breakers during their WPSL Elite season where she played as a winger.

Jenny LaPonte was a defender for the Santa Clara Broncos during her college career. In her freshman year she rotated between all on-field positions except goalkeeping in 19 games. During her sophomore year as a defender she contributed to the Broncos nine shutouts during the season. She is listed as a reserve by the team.

The Midfielders

Mariah Nogueira is a defensive midfielder from Stanford, but she did plenty going forward in her college career, notching 21 goals and 15 assists. In addition, she started in 95 out of 99 matches for the Cardinals. Nogueira is definitely running on gusto as she only recently completed her college requirements and is now setting foot for the first time on the field as a professional footballer. Expect her to play in a similar fashion as she did at Stanford. She's a strong player who makes smart tackles, and should do an excellent job of distributing to the Breakers' wingers.

O'Reilly is a USWNT mainstay and should be the heartbeat of the team.

Lisa-Marie Woods was brought to Boston as a discovery player. She was named the Team MVP during her time with the USL W-League club Ottawa Fury. Woods, a Norwegian international, has represented her country 23 times and has also played professionally in Australia and Norway, in addition to the United States and Canada.

Heather O'Reilly is slated to start on the right wing for the Breakers, and should be the team's main creative force. While Leroux's goal-scoring prowess might make her the biggest name to casual fans, O'Reilly is a USWNT mainstay and should be the heartbeat of the team. Unlike most teams, who rely on a central creative force, expect the Breakers to lean on their star right winger to set up goals.

Elizabeth Guess is an exciting addition and a former college teammate of O'Reilly's. They both played at the University of North Carolina, where they took home two NCAA National Championships and Guess was named the ACC Tournament MVP during her senior season. Prior to her arrival at Boston, Guess played as a forward for the USL W-League club Atlanta Silverbacks. The Breakers might rotate their more attacking central midfield place throughout the year, but expect Guess to be first choice.

Jo Dragotta played as a midfielder for the University of Florida and recorded seven goals and 11 assists in 82 appearances. She made appearances on the NSCAA All-South Region first team, the All-SEC first team selection and the SEC All-Tournament team during her senior year.

Joanna Lohman reads developing attacks well and is adept at shielding the back line from midfield. She has remained active since WPS folded and has played for the Philadelphia Independence, Washington Freedom, Espanyol and D.C United Women in recent years. She's represented the USWNT a handful of times as well.

Maddy Evans is currently completing her studies at Penn State. She was named team captain In her senior year and made an appearance in the 2012 College Cup final. In 61 appearances in college, she recorded five goals and six assists.

Shawna Gordon is a central midfielder from Long Beach State that won the Big West Conference Midfielder of the Year award in 2011. Since college she has played for Pali Blues. Her transfer to Boston is expected shortly, but has not been officially announced.

Kate Russell is resourceful to say the least. During her junior campaign at Colorado, she attempted 41 shots on goal and had 14 assists in her first three years in college. She's likely to see most of her time on the left side of midfield if she plays, but is listed as a reserve.

The Forwards

Boston has a plethora of forwards to choose from, but expected starters Sydney Leroux and Kyah Simon should form one of the best forward partnerships in the league.

Sydney Leroux doesn't get the accolades of national teammates Abby Wambach or Alex Morgan, but she's a fan favorite and one of NWSL's most talented players. As a forward, she's advantageous and frequently pressures defenders to force turnovers. She's spent most of her USWNT career as a sub, but played all 90 minutes on two occasions during the Algarve Cup, dispelling any concerns about her fitness.

Kyah Simon returns to the the Boston Breakers, having played for them in the WPSL previously. Simon already has two championship titles under her belt thanks to her time with Sydney FC, where she was a prolific scorer. During her W-League stint with the team, she accumulated 21 goals in only 39 appearances.

Adriana Leon is an excellent player, but she's unlikely to start up top due to the presence of Simon and Leroux. It's possible that she could make a move to a midfield role. Leon is magic with the ball at her feet, and she should make a positive creative impact on the Breakers, whether as a converted midfield player or as an attacking sub. She's represented the Canadian under-20 team eight times, netting five goals. She received her first senior cap and goal earlier this year. She looks poised to become a star for Canada, but needs to find a spot to play regularly on the Breakers this season.

Lianna Sanderson is a veteran forward who should get plenty of chances to play if Leon gets time in other spots. She wasn't great in the Breakers' only preseason match, but has been a solid player previously for D.C. United Women, Espanyol and the Philadelphia Independence. She is also an English international, but has withdrawn herself from consideration for her national team for the time being.

Katie Schoepfer is a Boston favorite after she played for the team in the 2011 WPS season, clocking 13 appearances and two goals. She improved her performance during the Breakers' 2012 season with seven goals and six assists. Prior to her professional career, Schoepfer was a Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year in her senior year and started in 65 out of 78 games for Penn State. She finished her career with 35 goals and 20 assists.

Anisa Guajardo is currently completing her studies and is expected to join the squad later in the season. During her college career, she started 58 games at Pepperdine. She was named to the All-WCC First Team in her senior year and ranked second in goals in the WCC with 10. She has also competed as a member of the Mexican National Team during their CONCACAF qualifiers in 2012.

Kate Howarth was a last minute addition to the roster. Prior to joining Boston she had played as a forward for the WPSL Elite club New England Mutiny. She started in 12 games and notched nine goals for the Mutiny. Howarth played her college soccer at the University of Miami, where she tallied 21 goals and eight assists. Howarth suffered a broken fibula and dislocated ankle in her junior year, but returned to score 11 goals in her senior year.

The Breakers have one of the best forward groups in NWSL to go along with a solid midfield and defense, but their defensive depth was seriously damaged by the departure of Mitts and Short's injury. If their remaining defensive players can stay injury-free, they're likely to compete for a title. If not, they're going to rely on their forward players to score a lot of goals to reach the playoffs.

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