SOMERVILLE, Mass. – Officially, the plug was pulled on Women’s Professional Soccer last Friday, and while its certified demise led some that were out of the loop to shed a tear or two over its death, most of us that saw it in its vegetative state the last few months were able to say our goodbyes long ago.
And so, on the very day, the old league was put out of its misery, there were plenty of smiles from the people who used to be a big part of it. The Boston Breakers hosted FC Indiana in their home opener in the newly formed WPSL Elite before a sell-out crowd at Dilboy Stadium, and it seemed like – for everyone involved – the pressure was off.
Yes, it was great that 2,312 paying customers showed up to watch, but the number didn’t really matter, unlike last year, where that number seemed to be everything. There was a decent amount of media present, but there was no lamenting that the major media outlets weren’t there with cameras and beat reporters. In short, it seems that in WPSL Elite thus far, everyone is free to be themselves, which is refreshing.
If there was a problem evident with the WPSL Elite Friday night, it might be finding good competition for the clearly talented teams at the top of the pyramid. Much has been made about FC Indiana and the wonderful work Shek Borkowski has done in Haiti in a short time, but his almost exclusively Haitian outfit was outclassed from the opening kickoff.
Borkowski came out in a 3-4-3 hybrid, but Indiana gave Boston plenty of space to start their attack. And anyone who has watched Cat Whitehill over the years knows that if you give her time and space anywhere within a 40-yard radius of your goal, she’s going to take aim. You could almost see Whitehill’s eyes light up from the press box as her first shot just minutes in forced an uncomfortable save out of Indiana keeper Geralda Saintilus, who would be more than a little busy in this match. In the ninth minute, Saintilus got a hand to another Whitehill missile to push it off the crossbar, but Katie Schoepfer was there for an easy tap-in.
To Indiana’s credit, they came back two minutes later to tie the game. Sophia Batard, probably Indiana’s best player, got the ball on a counter and slipped in Nadia Libertin and the game was even.
But that would be Indiana’s only shot of the first half, and Kyah Simon’s brace before halftime pretty much sealed Indiana’s fate. The visitors’ shape in defense was much better in the second half, and they conceded only once after the break, when Simon found fellow Aussie international Tameka Butt in the 57th minute, making the final 4-1.
It is the additions of the Aussies that might push Boston to the favorite role in WPSL Elite this summer. Simon, particularly, did just about as she pleased Friday night, and her workrate will make her a handful for anyone in this league to stop. She doesn’t turn 21 until next month, and has the potential to be one of the best strikers in the world. She signed with the Breakers when the WPS was still alive back in January, and there was some question whether she and Butt would still come over when the league collapsed, but there was little doubt in her mind.
“I think any opportunity to go overseas was definitely in the cards,” Simon said. “What better place to come than America? I’d definitely prefer rather to be here rather than in Denmark or in Sweden where the weather is cold, but definitely going overseas was an easy choice at all stages. Hopefully, I might be back here next year, too.”
I’m assuming if you’re here, you know most of Simon’s remarkable story, but if you haven’t seen “No Apologies” and you’re a women’s soccer fan, it’s definitely worth your time.
Boston, like New York, has a veteran core that starts down the spine with Whitehill and Taryn Hemmings in the middle, joined by Leslie Osborne and Mary Frances Monroe playing holding midfielders in a 4-2-3-1 for coach Lisa Cole. Cole made an interesting sub late in the game when Kristi Lefebvre replaced Monroe, significant because both are Division I head coaches in the same conference, Monroe now running Albany, while Lefebvre is at Vermont (both are always former UConn standouts, although they played at different times). Both are splitting time between their job and the Breakers this summer, meaning they probably won’t be available for every road game, but will be a big veteran boost to the squad nonetheless.
Butt tucked in behind a front three of Simon, Schoepfer, and Jess Luscinski, who picked up an assist. The Breakers should also get Melissa Henderson in uniform at some point this summer. Courtney Jones – formerly of UNC – and Julie King round out the backline, and you start to understand why the Breakers are the likely league favorites.
“We’ve played a different lineup in all three games,” Cole said. “We’re still missing three of our U-23s today, they’re all starters, so it will change in and out throughout the season.”
It’s been nearly 12 years since Whitehill made her full debut for the U.S. national team, so she has certainly earned the right to speak about the state of women’s soccer these days. And she, like many players, just seemed happy Friday that the WPS ordeal of the last few months can finally be put to a semi-permanent rest.
“Sometimes it takes a couple of blocks to go down, then you have to keep building it up to keep making it stronger,” Whitehill said. “We keep learning from our mistakes from each one. This is an awesome opportunity for so many young women, and hopefully we can keep it going.”
Hopefully this season will be a good, relaxing start:
Elsewhere in WPSL Elite:
NEW ENGLAND 4:2 CHESAPEAKE
Kevin had a good recap on this game and included our conversation with Chesapeake coach Albert Oni, which had some good responses on joining WPSL Elite.
Oni’s squad didn’t roll over for the Mutiny, trailing 3-1 at halftime, they were the better side in the second half, and nearly equalized on a couple of occasions. And while no one is ever happy to lose a game, I left impressed by the Charge, who had a goal scorer – Shannon Collins (a phenomenal left-footed curling strike from a good distance out) – and the player that impressed me most – Riley Barger – that were both high schoolers. You knew it was a young team when you saw some of them giddy after the game about the opportunity to grab some free pizza, and a couple of voices yelling, “Mom, get my bag.” The juxtaposition of a team like that against the likes of the veteran Breakers and Paul Riley’s New York Fury should be interesting.
Incidentally, the Charge played without Christine Nairn – their most accomplished player – whom Oni said had to take care of some things at Penn State.
New England was without Morgan Andrews – at her high school prom – and has had trouble getting a full roster together, seemingly more so than other squads. They also faced a scheduling dilemma with another game at Philadelphia 24 hours later. But three points is three points, I guess.
Random cool fact of the night: Jenny Maurer – who scored the opening goal from long range – not only played her high school soccer on the East Longmeadow High field where the Mutiny plays, but is now the varsity coach there. So at least we know she knows how to get to the games, which is nice.
WESTERN NY 0:1 NEW YORK
The Flash can take plenty of positives out of this one, but it was Brittany Taylor’s goal off a corner kick early in the second half that gave the Fury three points and kept them perfect in the early season. The Flash, though, showed that they will probably be a factor in the league before all is said and done, although you have to think the Fury will keep getting better as well.
CHICAGO 2:0 INDIANA
As expected, the Red Stars dominated possession in their opener, but had more trouble than expected breaking Indiana down, eventually getting goals from Julianne Stich and a Lauren Fowlkes penalty kick to get the result.
Other than the new uniforms (I like them), Lori Chalupny continues to be a factor in whatever league she plays in, taking the field without headgear and dominating. Tough to get a read on the Red Stars after just one game, we’ll have to wait until they play one of the top teams to get a genuine read on whether they’ll be a factor in the title race.
PHILADELPHIA 2:2 NEW ENGLAND
Like Chesapeake the day before, the Fever proved to be feisty and – according to reports – could have won the game at the end a couple of times. Tiya Gallegos has scored in all three Mutiny games and her brace here gives her four on the young season, a nice problem for Tony Horta to have. Unfortunately, his defense – in flux for various reasons – has now conceded nine times in three matches – and that’s going to have to be sorted out quickly if they want to make a playoff push.
As much as it was disappointing for New England to struggle this weekend, it is probably good for the league, which feared that Chesapeake and Philadelphia may struggle to be competitive. Neither has played one of the “big clubs”, but it’s a good (and entertaining) start.
New York hosts Boston on Wednesday in a marquee league matchup, as the league should finally start to stabilize with schedules and rosters soon.