It's been a rocky season for the Boston Breakers, but when it mattered most, they got the win they needed over Sky Blue FC at Harvard Stadium in Boston on Sunday. The 2-0 win gave Boston the final Women's Professional Soccer playoff spot, and it'll face Abby Wambach's magicJack side in Florida on Wednesday night in the first round of the playoffs.
United States World Cup star Lauren Cheney tallied both goals for the Breakers, including the fastest goal in WPS history just 14 seconds into the match. Cheney has been battling an ankle sprain she suffered in the World Cup final loss to Japan but looked strong Sunday.
The Breakers made the playoffs at 5-9-4, and the win snapped a four-game losing streak.
"There was no pressure on us," Cheney said after the game. "If we lost, that was our own fault. We had nothing to lose. We had to put it all out there, and we did that."
Sky Blue FC lost one central defender, Carrie Dew, to a red card suspension and another, Anita Asante, to injury, making their job Sunday against U.S. national team forwards Cheney and Kelley O'Hara that much tougher. Both of Cheney's goals came before 20 minutes had passed in the match. In the 34th minute, Sky Blue FC coach Jim Gabarra subbed off Dutch international Petra Hogewoning, who was seeing her first WPS minutes of the year, in favor of another attacker, Casey Nogueira, to try to get back into the game.
"We were a bit of a shambles in the back to start," Gabarra said after the game. "We were way too passive. That's a dream start for them. We were not good enough in the back to start."
Sky Blue FC eventually shifted to just two defenders in the back but couldn't muster much of an offensive attack as the Breakers held on defense.
Because of injuries and World Cup duty, Boston has been without last year's offensive trio of Cheney, English international Kelly Smith and midfielder Jordan Angeli for most of the season. The three combined for 23 goals last year but have just five this year.
Angeli is out for the season with an ACL injury, and Smith has played only 45 minutes for the team since running on an injured ankle in England's World Cup quarterfinal loss to France last month. Cheney was the only one of the three on the field Sunday.
"She hasn't scored the goals for the Breakers that I think she's wanted to," Breakers captain Leslie Osborne said after the game. "Tonight, we just gave her the ball a lot. She had the ball a lot, and she creates special things."
Breakers coach Tony DiCicco said Smith may be available when the team faces magicJack on Wednesday. If Smith is able to contribute in the match, it will help the Breakers against a team that has beaten them twice this month by the combined score of 6-0. MagicJack forwards Abby Wambach and Christen Press scored all six of the goals and have caused opposing defenses all sorts of stress during the past few weeks.
"It's a tough game. You've got Abby Wambach, who, right now, is just -- how do you deal with her?" DiCicco said. "We'll come up with a tactic. We were embarrassed last time we played there. They beat us 4-0."
Sky Blue FC and the Breakers have had their playoff hopes linked together before. In 2009, Boston's late-season collapse (an 0-3-1 finish) allowed the New Jersey squad to take the final playoff spot. Sky Blue FC went on to win three straight road games and take the title with an upset win over Marta and the Los Angeles Sol. Boston's loss to magicJack last week had the Breakers nearly out of playoff contention until Philadelphia's last-minute win over Sky Blue FC reopened the door.
Osborne said she couldn't even watch Sky Blue FC's game last week because she was so nervous. Just a draw for Sky Blue FC would've ended the Breakers' season.
"I was actually at the Red Sox-Yankees game," Osborne said. "I decided to not watch that game because I thought I would stress myself out. I found out from phone calls and text messages."
Now the Breakers will try to repeat what Sky Blue FC was able to achieve just two years ago.
"We didn't want to go out with a loss at home. It's going to be tough to go on the road and win games, but I like where we are right now," DiCicco said. "We're glad we're in the playoffs. Anything can happen once you get in."