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Breakers keep eyes on prize

WPS final looms if they win tonight

By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / September 23, 2010

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Almost everything was going right for the Boston Breakers the last time they played in a semifinal playoff match. Seven years ago, the Breakers won the WUSA regular-season championship, produced the Coach, Executive, and Player of the Year, and led the league in attendance. But things fell apart quickly after that.

The Breakers were eliminated from the playoffs in a penalty-kick loss to the Washington Freedom Aug. 16, 2003, and a month later, the league ceased operations.

Nothing quite that ominous surrounds the Breakers as they prepare for tonight’s Women’s Professional Soccer semifinal against the Philadelphia Independence at the Soldiers Field Soccer Stadium on the Harvard campus. There have been some bumps in the road for the WPS — two teams have folded and the commissioner resigned — but if optimism reigns, it is because budgets and expectations are realistic.

“The last time, we just had a bad plan,’’ said the Breakers’ Kristine Lilly. “We had all the money, we just wasted it. So we don’t have all the money now, we’re just trying to take the money we have and build from there. In that sense, hopefully, we’re doing a better job.’’

Lilly, 39, has been with the US national team since most of her teammates were infants, and she played for the Breakers in their initial incarnation. Lilly has been called in to the US training camp and hopes to be participating next year in both the Women’s World Cup in Germany and WPS.

“I’m trying to feel how everything goes, how the body is, and then we’ll see how next year stands,’’ Lilly said. “I would love to [return to the Breakers]. This is so much fun playing here in Boston. If everything goes well, it seems like I will be around next year. All my teammates used to tease me, like ‘you’re going to play in 400 games,’ they’re like ‘Lill’s going to play forever.’

“I’m enjoying myself. Some days are a lot harder than others. We have such a great group here and I want to keep promoting soccer, and playing is the easiest way to do it.

“This is a great group of girls, we’ve worked hard, and the reserves are really the ones who have made the difference.’’

The Breakers (10-8-6, 36 points) finished in second place, 2 points ahead of Philadelphia. League champion FC Gold Pride will play host to the final in Hayward, Calif., Sunday.

The Breakers won their season opener, then went on a nine-game winless streak, before rallying with a 9-3-2 record since July 4. They were among the league’s hottest teams before losing midfielder Leslie Osborne (broken collarbone) in a 4-0 win over Sky Blue FC Aug. 15, slumping to two wins in the final five matches.

“We’ve been filling the gap,’’ coach Tony DiCicco said of replacing Osborne. “We’ve had to pull Jordan Angeli back. She’s our second-leading scorer and now she’s playing a position she doesn’t get as many opportunities.

“So, there’s adjustments. But the team is playing well. We don’t feel any pressure. We’re going to go out and play the best game we possibly can play.’’

DiCicco criticized the scheduling, with the winner of this match facing a cross-country trip with about 60 hours of recovery time.

“I’d like to win in 90 minutes for a lot of reasons,’’ DiCicco said. “Penalties is such a crap shoot, and we’ve got to play 2 1/2 days later, and if we’re going to penalties, it means we’ve played 120 minutes.

“It’s tough for either team to travel to the West Coast for Sunday morning. Either team will be competitive but it’s just not realistic to expect them to be able to play their best with tired legs.

“I understand the TV implications, but don’t you want your showcase game, your championship game, to be among your best games of the season?

“I personally think it was a big mistake by the league, but we still want to get in the game, and if we get in the game, we’re capable of winning, even with short rest.’’

Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at f_dellapa@globe.com.

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