By Samantha Gignac
The Boston Breakers had a successful first season in the newly formed National Women’s Soccer League, a season that featured plenty of highlights both on and off the field.
“From an overall league standpoint, I thought it went very well, obviously a few teething problems here and there, but the overall organization and direction is a positive one," Boston Breakers General Manager Lee Billiard said. "For us on the field, we obviously wanted to be in playoffs; that is always our goal at the start of the season. Unfortunately we fell just short of doing that, but I cannot fault the effort our players put in all season. They stayed strong and worked hard as a collective group to get us where we believed we should have been, the playoffs.
"Off the field we sold out nine of our 11 home games, added a full academy youth system, and formed youth soccer partnerships with more towns than we ever have," Billiard added. "I believe this has allowed us to make the Breakers brand stronger and more of a household name when it comes to soccer. Our fans have been fantastic; they always are. We have such a great fan base that continues to support the team and women’s soccer in general. It is great to see the stands full and a high level women’s soccer game happening on the field.
In late 2012, the Boston Breakers joined seven other teams to play in the NWSL. Lisa Cole returned as Breakers head coach and she was joined by Maren Rojas as the assistant coach to start the season.
Team selection started with the allocation of the more than five dozen players combined on U.S, Canadian, and Mexican women’s national team rosters. From this allocation, U.S. players Heather O’Reilly and Heather Mitts returned to the Breakers, although Mitts later announced her retirement from soccer before the season began. Sydney Leroux was also added to the Breakers roster to play along her U.S. teammates. All three players were part of the 2012 Olympic gold-medal team. Rhian Wilkinson and Adriana Leon from the 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Canadian team, and Anisa Guajardo and Cecillia Santiago from Mexico’s national team were also added to the Breakers roster. Leon was later traded to the Chicago Red Stars for Canadian defender Carm Moscato.
A preseason promo, highlighting our Canadian players
Leading up to the inaugural NWSL season, the Breakers continued to put together a strong roster with a mix of new and veteran players. Cat Whitehill returned as the Breakers star defender and was also named team captain for the 2013 season.
Captain Cat Whitehill (Photos by Mike Gridley)
In the first game of the season, the Breakers were able to show their determination and fighting spirit in front of a sold out home crowd at Dilboy Stadium in Somerville. A goal by Leroux in the 91st minute allowed the Breakers to come out with a 1-1 draw, despite an early lead by the Washington Spirit.
The Breakers’ persistence paid off even more in their next game and earned them their first win in the NWSL. After an early Western New York Flash lead, two goals by O’Reilly cinched a 2-1 win for the Breakers. Her performance in this match also earned O’Reilly the title of NWSL Player of the Week.
In the third game of the season, it was Leroux who led the Breakers to victory. Her hat trick, the first three-goal game in NWSL history, propelled the Breakers past the Chicago Red Stars, 4-1, in front of the largest crowd Dilboy Stadium had ever seen (3,113). Leroux was then honored as the NWSL Player of the Week for her performance.
Another 1-1 tie against the Washington Spirit allowed the Breakers to remain undefeated through the first four games of the season with a 2-0-2 record.
After losing their first game of the season, defeat on the road to FC Kansas City, the Breakers came out blazing when they played their third match this season against the Washington Spirit. This time it was Lianne Sanderson’s play that pushed the Breakers forward. Her three assists, one each to O’Reilly, Katie Schoepfer, and Kyah Simon led the Breakers to a 3-0 win. Following the trend of the other two Breakers’ wins, Sanderson was then awarded NWSL Player of the Week.
After suffering a five-game winless streak, the Breakers fought back with a four-game unbeaten stretch, including two exciting wins over first-place Sky Blue FC and second-place Portland Thorns FRc, which moved the Breakers to 5-5-4.
The next highlight of the season was an outstanding 5-2 win over Washington on the road. It was a truly a team effort as O’Reilly, Sanderson, Wilkinson, Whitehill, and Mariah Nogueira all scored one goal each to earn the win for the Breakers. This win moved the Breakers into fifth place.
Heather O’Reilly had the best professional season of her career
As the team looked to the playoffs, Whitehill took the position as interim head coach after the Breakers parted ways with Cole and Rojas. Whitehill had a lot of responsibility at the end of the season, acting as both player, coach, and captain, but her teammates praised her efforts. She proved successful over the final weeks of the season and was able to lead her team to finish the season out strong, going 2-1-1 over the final four games of 2013.
The Breakers won their next home game, a 2-1 victory over Portland, carried by two thrilling goals as the game neared a close. Unfortunately, this high didn’t last very long as a win by Western New York put the Breakers out of playoff contention that same night.
Although they would not be playing in the postseason, the Breakers showed they were still a powerful force in the league as they defeated first-place FC Kansas City in their last home game. This win wrecked Kansas City’s 10-game unbeaten streak and put a hold on the Blues securing home field advantage throughout the entire NWSL playoffs.
Katie Schoepfer had two goals and one assist, playing in 20 games
The Breakers certainly left their mark in the inaugural season of the NWSL. They ended the season in fifth place with an 8-8-6 record and beat every team in the league except for Seattle Reign. Boston won season series over regular season champions Western New York and 2013 NWSL champions Portland Thorns FC.
At the end of the season, the team certainly still had a lot to celebrate. Leroux was awarded the team Golden Boot for being the team’s top scorer. Leroux tallied 11 goals in her 19 games this season, four of which were game-winners for the Breakers. Leroux’s impressive 11 goals tied her for second with WNY’s Abby Wambach for leading scorers in the league. Leroux also was named to the NWSL Best XI as one of the top players in the league, an honor voted upon by media and players throughout the league.
Sydney Leroux won the team’s Golden Boot with 11 goals this season
The media, as well as Breakers players and staff, all voted for the other two team awards: MVP, which went to Sanderson, and Defender of the Year, which was awarded to Whitehill. Sanderson and Whitehill were two of only three Breakers players to play in all 22 games.
Sanderson ended the season with five goals and seven assists. She garnered high praise from her opponents and was named to the NWSL Best XI Second Team for her high level of play this season.
Lianne Sanderson celebrates one of her many goals this season
Other notables from the season: Whitehill was the only Breakers player, and only one of 12 players in the NWSL to start all 22 games this season ... 10 different Breakers scored this season, including Leroux, Sanderson, O’Reilly, Simon, Schoepfer, Nogueira, Wilkinson, Whitehill, Leon, and Joanna Lohman ... 11 players notched at least one assist, including Sanderson, O’Reilly, Simon, Whitehill, Leroux, Nogueira, Schoepfer, Wilkinson, Julie King, Jazmyne Avant (acquired via free agency after starting the season with Portland), and Elizabeth Guess (later traded to Portland), Ten players logged more than 1,000 minutes this season: Whitehill, Sanderson, Lohman, Leroux, Schoepfer, Simon, O’Reilly, Nogueira, King, and Kia McNeill.
Kyah Simon finished the season with three goals and three assists
In addition to the previously mentioned players, seven other players saw minutes for the Breakers in 2012: Moscato, Cecilia Santiago, Jo Dragotta, Maddy Evans, Kate Howarth, Melinda Mercado (acquired via trade with Western New York), and Lisa Marie Woods ... In goal this season, the Breakers used a trio that provided plenty of heart-stopping action. Ashley Phillips began the season as the team’s starter, and the Breakers veteran proved vital to the early season success. Santiago made history when she beat Western New York and became the youngest keeper in any U.S. professional women’s league to earn a victory in goal. Nearly halfway into the season, the Breakers signed a familiar face, Alyssa Naeher, who played for Boston during its Women’s Professional Soccer seasons of 2010 and 2011. Despite suffering a broken nose upon her return, Naeher closed out her season with a team-high two shutouts in eight starts.
Keeper Ashley Phillips provided highlight-reel saves in 2013
Off the field, the Breakers had plenty of highlights. Through outlets like autograph alley and social media, the Breakers players showed their appreciation for their fans, maintaining a bond few have achieved in the professional ranks. The Breakers also created their own Academy Program, which spawned the Women’s Premier Soccer League team Boston Breakers College Academy, and partnered with Scorpions Soccer Club, later rebranding it as Boston Breakers Academy.
The Breakers will return to the NWSL in 2014, and season tickets are now on sale by visiting www.breakerstickets.com or by calling 617-945-1704.
"Next year will be bigger and better as we are working hard to continue our growth off the field and push for that playoff spot in 2014," Billiard said. "We hope the fans continue the support as they are what all of us front office, coaching, and playing staff thrive on and work so hard to please."