NWSL – 2014 Draft Review – Boston Breakers – Just Business

There may have been more than one talking point about this year’s draft, but there probably weren’t too many for Boston. The Breakers came into it needing some scorers and some cover at center-back to bolster their non-existent depth there. They got them both, taking Nkem Ezurike and Jazmine Reeves to hopefully find some scoring solutions, while Natasha Anasi will likely be auditioned at center-back if she isn’t moved to midfield. Anasi’s teammates, Mollie Pathman and Kim DeCesare were decent picks as well, though both have their concerns.

About the only thing to quibble with was the trade that sent veteran goalkeeper Michelle Betos to Portland and the short-term consequences. In the long-term, the Breakers may come out ahead, getting a second round pick in next year’s draft that could be close to the line of demarcation as to where the talent really drops off. But in the short-term, the club gave up a sure thing and replaced her with the eighth best goalkeeper in a weakened goalkeeping class. As I note below, I’m also unsure as to why they didn’t just bring Jami Kranich in as an undrafted free agent considering nobody picking behind them was in desperate need of a goalkeeper. Given the value that still remained on the board, Boston could have taken another flyer on someone in a talent rich draft while still picking Kranich up later.

It’s probably a moot point in the end. Ultimately, this class will probably be judged on Ezurike and Reeves’ performance. If they can knock them in at their college pace, Boston could well surprise. If they struggle to acclimate to this level, the Breakers will likely be in pole position for Morgan Brian next season.

8 – Nkem Ezurike – F – Michigan

Boston needed a forward in the worst way after losing both Sydney Leroux and Kyah Simon in the offseason. But did they need this forward? Granted, everyone beyond Maya Hayes in terms of forwards in this class has some risk attached, and Ezurike is no exception, though some of her flaws were especially noticeable in her usage stats from her senior season. The burly target forward needed over seven shots for one goal and didn’t put forty percent of her shots on goal as a senior, both particularly big red flags despite some good numbers against bigger clubs. Beyond statistics, Ezurike is build like a house, an imposing, powerful target forward who led the line with effectiveness for the Wolverines for four seasons. There’s little nuanced about her game, and if she’s going to be a key part of Boston’s offense from the start, it’s likely the club may be skewing toward more direct tactics, as a club with Ezurike in the first XI isn’t likely to be engaging in too much tiki-taka. If the Breakers’ coaches don’t try to turn Ezurike into something she’s not, she could be a dangerous weapon up top, with true target forwards in short supply in the league. But this isn’t a pick without risk, and Boston’s been home to more than one maddeningly inconsistent young forward in the past.

13 – Natasha Anasi – D/MF – Duke

The Breakers have plenty of options at full-back, but they don’t appear to have much depth centrally other than last year’s starters, Kia McNeill and Cat Whitehill. As much as the club needed to replenish their attacking options, they really needed to add a central defender or two and did that by drafting Anasi with their second round pick. Whether she’s big enough to cut it at center-back at the next level remains a question to be answered. She’s just 5’6″, and despite being a physical and fearless defender at the college level, the Duke center-back is going to be facing much bigger quarry at the next level. Fortunately for Anasi, Boston needs a pitbull in midfield as well after trading Mariah Nogueira. Anasi played such a role before moving to center-back as a sophomore, meaning a move back into the middle of the park wouldn’t be foreign to her. Regardless, Boston’s got needs all over the place, and it’d be a surprise if Anasi didn’t find herself a niche as a rookie, no matter the position.

21 – Jazmine Reeves – F – Virginia Tech

Reeves may have been the draft’s big faller in terms of expected draft position after most had figured she’d be off the board late in the first round or early in the second round after an impressive senior season for the surprising Hokies. Reeves didn’t exactly burn down the record book as a senior but did end up scoring a big number of goals against top clubs for Tech. At the same time though, her usage rates as a senior weren’t overwhelmingly positive, and she also doesn’t have a history of being a big-time scorer before this season. What Reeves does bring to the table is the aforementioned big game scoring ability as well as pace and strength, which held her in good stead in the physical ACC this past season. I thought she would’ve been a risk in the first round, where I pegged her to go initially, but she represents great value for Boston in the third round.

23 – Mollie Pathman – D – Duke

Yes, I know I wrote above that Boston has plenty of options at full-back. It’s just that I’m not sure any of those options are all that great. Jazmyne Avant and Julie King got runs out at full-back last season, and the Breakers will surely be hoping that Bianca D’Agostino returns from injury and Chelsea Stewart can be a factor. Courtney Jones has also played full-back in the past, but all of the above isn’t exactly reassuring to be truthful. Pathman’s not going to bring the pace that Avant does or the brute force strength that King has, but she’s technically skilled, has extensive youth international experience, and serves a great ball in from the left. Your guess is as good as mine as to who lines up at full-back for Boston at the beginning of the season, and for a third-round pick, Pathman’s probably got as good a shot as any contender to be in that first XI.

32 – Jami Kranich – GK – Villanova

You’d think after last season’s rendition of musical goalkeepers, Boston would have learned their lesson and been content with an excellent starter in Alyssa Naeher and proven backup in Michelle Betos. Alas, the Breakers apparently found the offer of two draft picks (one potentially being lucrative next season) too much to turn down, necessitating the need for another backup for Naeher. The problem? This wasn’t a very good year for goalkeepers in the draft after Kelsey Wys given the absence of Aubrey Bledsoe and Erica Owens from the pool. I never really found Kranich to be anything special in goal. She seems to have hit her developmental ceiling a while ago and wasn’t even one of the Big East’s best goalkeepers as a senior. She’s looked shaky on high crosses (the bane of almost every goalkeeper at this level) and doesn’t seem to be much more than a decent leg and some expectedly strong shot-stopping ability. She’ll have the inside track for the backup job, but I’m wondering why Boston didn’t just take a field player with this pick and bring Kranich in as an undrafted free agent considering none of the teams picking behind Boston at this point were going to take a goalkeeper.

34 – Kim DeCesare – F – Duke

DeCesare’s an interesting pick in that I’m not quite sure what Boston’s going to do with her. She looked like a big time prospect after a 2012 season that saw her turn into Duke’s best offensive weapon with sixteen goals and a whopping shots to goal ratio of under four. But with so many weapons this season, DeCesare was moved into a midfield role for much of this past season as a senior, a move that didn’t quite take. DeCesare was solid, but her offensive numbers dropped like a rock, with a shots to goal ratio of ten (!) and only putting 43% of her shots on goal, both numbers that were more in line with her 2011 stats. Nkem Ezurike seems to have the target forward role taken care of, but given DeCesare’s size and dominance in the air, I’m wondering if she might be auditioned at center-back for the Breakers. Her questionable mobility after an ACL tear early in her college career is probably going to preclude a permanent move to midfield against the shifty midfielders at this level, while her up and down usage numbers probably limit her upside as a forward. I think she’s a project, but DeCesare’s one with the potential to pay off down the line if Boston’s patient with her development.

2 thoughts on “NWSL – 2014 Draft Review – Boston Breakers – Just Business

  1. DG

    Does anyone know why Bledsoe and Owens didn’t declare? I’m a huge fan of Erica Owens in particular and was sad to see she won’t be in the NWSL.

    Reply

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