Freedom fall to Boston in opener
It wasn't until late last season when the Washington Freedom began to click offensively, mostly behind a finally-healthy Abby Wambach, who had worked back to full form from a broken leg.
On Saturday evening at Maryland SoccerPlex in the opener for Women's Professional Soccer's second season, the Freedom again showed some early-season rust in the final third and had two crucial defensive breakdowns as they fell to the Boston Breakers, 2-1, in front of 3,899 in Boyds.
Playing in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Wambach alone up top and Sonia Bompastor, the Freedom's most dynamic attacking player last year, at left back, Washington struggled to put it all together in the attack - missing the last pass or failing to finish a strong build-up with a quality shot.
The Freedom's best chances came in the final five minutes as they pushed forward more, and Allie Long finished a volley in the 87th minute after Cat Whitehill's long ball was headed back by Wambach to the foot of Long.
"Usually you want to start to hone your system defensively first and then the offense and the attacking third comes last," Wambach said. "Getting everyone on the same page offensively is the most difficult thing to do. So yeah, I think throughout the course of the season we're going to get better at it."
The lack of continuity up top seemed to come from some confusion in the roles of the center midfielders. Homare Sawa failed to play high enough underneath Wambach and sucked too far into a holding role, and with Boston preventing Bompastor from pushing forward too much on the outside, the lack of presence up the middle hurt the Freedom's ability to get forward.
Several attacks that showed promise died on the final pass, many of which were just out of reach of their intended target, and there were several looks at goal the Freedom passed up with a short pass or extra touch that ended the opportunity.
The struggles came "mostly because of player performance," Freedom Coach Jim Gabarra said. "It's been an effective system for us all preseason. Obviously with one forward it requires Sawa to get closer to Abby and higher and she really couldn't find her way in there. We want Allie to be the one of the two holding to get forward more and she at times did but other times she was a little too far away."
As much as the attack lacked the desired continuity, it was two early defensive errors that truly cost Washington.
The Breakers took the lead in the sixth minute of the match when the Freedom failed to close down a short corner. That allowed veteran Kristine Lilly to take a touch and cross to the far post, and the ball skipped through several defenders and was finished from just a few yards out by forward Lauren Cheney.
Boston doubled its lead in the 19th minute, with Lilly again sparking the attack. Lilly lofted a ball perfectly over the head of Freedom defender Cat Whitehill that dropped to England star Kelly Smith, and Smith pivoted around and placed the ball to the far post.
"If you take out the two huge errors in the first 30 minutes I don't know if they had many great chances unless it was a mistake from us," Gabarra said. "We certainly weren't broken down by their play, we were broken down by our own lack of intensity and some pretty bad errors by players you wouldn't expect it from."
April 10, 2010; 9:42 PM ET
Categories: Freedom , Women | Tags: Allie Long, Cat Whitehill, Defender, Forward, Kelly Smith, Kristine Lilly, Lauren Cheney, Midfielder
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