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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.

(Much more...)

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."

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By Paul Tenorio  |  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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Comments

The struggles came "mostly because of player performance," Freedom Coach Jim Gabarra said.
==============

Utter rubbish. The struggles come because DeCicco and the Breakers out-organizationed the Freedom.

1. The Freedom failed to protect Lori Lindsey, the starting central midfielder for the best womens national team in the world. Why? If that was not Gabarra's call, whose was it? The Breakers central midfield (including Leslie Osborne) OWNED the Freedom, and it wasn't because Sawa sat too far back. She had to come back to get the ball, because the Freedom has no engine in the midfield. I mean, seriously, beyond Wambach and Bompastor, who would you protect ahead of Lindsey? Rubbish.

2. Behind Wambach, the 2 next leading scorers last year were Bomp and Devanna. Devanna was on the bench, and Bomp is utterly stranded out there at left back. Bomp needs to do that crazy thang she does! Free her up to run at people and create! And why would Devanna be on the bench? The Norwegian didn't do squadoosh the entire night that I saw. A complete non-factor. Madness.

3. 4-5-1? "It's been an effective system for us all preseason." Yeah, great, but you're not playing college teams any more. Coach, you can bang it around the back all you want, especially when you're down 2 goals, but that system stinks and it's boring besides.

I would have kept all this stuff to myself because I'm a pretty big Freedom fan, but for the coach to blame the players for this is not right. The management made crappy personnel decisions in the off-season, and the 4-5-1 is rubbish, and that is not the players' fault.

Gabarra should go.

Posted by: OWNTF | April 10, 2010 11:20 PM | Report abuse

Bomp plus Devanna last year = 10 goals 11 assists. One is now at left back and one is on the bench.

Posted by: OWNTF | April 10, 2010 11:31 PM | Report abuse

I wasn't the biggest Lindsey fan, but I'll agree with you on two points:

1) Bompastor needs to play in midfield. Sure, she can defend, but she's too important a creative offense force to play that far back.
2) DeVanna starts, period. No coincidence that the Freedom's second-half rally happened after she got in the game.

I'm hopeful that Mykjaland can add another dimension of creativity, and I'll give her the benefit of the doubt having only been with the team a week or two. Outside of Bompastor, offensive creativity was something sorely lacking in last year's team, despite the goal totals. How did they do in the playoffs without Sonia? Exactly. Lindsey didn't help, and wouldn't this year, either.

Posted by: JamesDougan | April 11, 2010 12:06 AM | Report abuse

Oh, and I'm also with you on Gabarra's "blame the players in public" approach. Not a fan of that.

Posted by: JamesDougan | April 11, 2010 12:10 AM | Report abuse

Yeah. Disappointing night. Questionable positions. Absurd blame.

Posted by: I-270Exit1 | April 11, 2010 8:01 AM | Report abuse

It's never totally disappointing when Leslie Osbourne is playing.

Posted by: OWNTF | April 11, 2010 8:41 AM | Report abuse

Osborne walked through the Bravehearts section on her way out with her dad(?) and I told her "Come back here with the Nats and we'll cheer for you, not heckle you" and she laughed.

Posted by: JamesDougan | April 11, 2010 10:39 AM | Report abuse

Gee, a Jim Gabarra team with a midfield in tatters, what a shock! Seriously, you could give that guy Marta and he would try to convert her into a holding midfielder. I'm waiting for the book "New and Interesting Ways to Stifle Attacking Soccer -- featuring the 4-5-1 and 3-6-1 formations" cowritten by Steve Sampson and Jim Gabarra.

Posted by: griffin1108 | April 11, 2010 11:54 AM | Report abuse

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