The Soccer Desk

NWSL Preview: Putting the Brakes on the Breakers

Spirit Preview

The Washington Spirit host the red hot Boston Breakers on Saturday in what is my marquee matchup of the weekend. The Breakers are red hot with US forward Sydney Leroux coming off her first NWSL hat trick against Chicago last weekend. Finding a way to stop Leroux is only the beginning of the Spirit’s problems. Heather O’Reilly and Lianne Sanderson are proving why they are two of the best players in the league too. O’Reilly notched a two goal performance against the Flash to close out the month of April and Sanderson has been instrumental in the Boston midfield setting up goals and taking shots herself.

This will mark the first time that Sanderson and teammate Johanna Lohman will return to the Plex since joining Boston in the new league. Sanderson and Lohman were both a part of the DC United Women’s team that played in the W-League last season and reached the semi-finals before being beaten by the Ottawa Fury. The Spirit are certainly looking to make this a bitter sweet return for the duo, as they are still searching for their first win of the year.

While the Breakers post a potent attack, the Spirit have some threats of their own. The biggest of those threats is midfielder Diana Matheson. Matheson has been wreaking havoc on opposing teams every match so far this season. Thorns head coach Cindy Parlow-Cone was asked how to slow down Matheson and she simply stated, “I don’t know if there is ever anything to slow down that girl. She’s fantastic isn’t she? I’ve watched a ton of video of her before and she’s everywhere on the field. She’s just a tremendous player. I don’t know if it’s quite possible to slow her down.”

While Matheson will be drawing the attention of the Breakers defense when she has the ball, that could leave US midfielder Lori Lindsey open to get a shot at goal, or to set up forwards Caroline Miller or Tiffany McCarty. McCarty did score the only goal for Washington in the first game against Boston, but has not been able to find the back of the net since. You can bet though that there will be a little more open space this weekend for the Spirit midfielders and forwards to attack with.

While Washington’s defense has looked shaky over the past two games in front of Ashlyn Harris, I would expect them to come out strong and looking to make a statement. Harris has been able to really keep the Spirit in games with some incredible saves. Defender Ali Kreiger has been able to get forward more on the attack providing a different type of attacking threat for Washington.

Coming off of two very difficult home losses the last two weeks, the first against Sky Blue FC and then against the Portland Thorns, the Spirit are very close to getting their first three points of the season. While there is no denying that Boston has a strong team and will certainly be a handful for Washington, I expect a strong performance from the home side.

My key players to watch in this game are:

Washington Spirit:

Diana Matheson – The Canadian midfielder has been a force on the field scoring three goals already this season. She is very skilled on the ball and very difficult to defend. Keeping Matheson in check is going to be quite a task for the Breakers. If she has a big game, so will the Spirit.

Caroline Miller – While Miller got her first start of the season against the Thorns last Saturday, when she has come on as a second half sub, her work rate and drive to the goal have been tremendous. Still looking to get that first goal, Miller certainly has the talent and skill to create chance after chance for the Spirit.

Tory Huster – Huster has been matched up against some of the world’s elite in Abby Wambach, Christine Sinclair and Alex Morgan and has held her own. This week she will likely be facing the speedy and skilled Heather O’Reilly. If Huster is able to contain O’Reilly, then the odds of stopping Leroux just got better.

Boston Breakers:

Sydney Leroux – Leroux is leading the league in goals with four goals, three of them coming last weekend. Leroux is speedy and skillful on the ball and is always headed towards the goal. Ali Kreiger will have the assignment of stopping Leroux, the question is, can she?

Heather O’Reilly – O’Reilly is the Breaker’s skilled and speedy right outside midfielder. Her two goals against the Western New York Flash at the end of April lifted the Breakers to three points and O’Reilly player of the week honors. The craftiness of O’Reilly’s play will be a key to the Breakers success on Saturday.

Leanne Sanderson – Sanderson has been instrumental in the Boston midfield with skill, speed and talent. Whether she is setting up goals, opening up the field of play, or taking a crack at the goal herself, she is definitely a playmaker.