Fastest goal in WPS history
Breakers come through in clutch
They top Sky Blue to get into playoffs
Lauren Cheney has been back from the Women’s World Cup for more than three weeks. But Cheney did not mark her return to full strength until yesterday, scoring twice to launch the Breakers into the Women’s Professional Soccer playoffs with a 2-0 win over Sky Blue FC at Harvard Stadium.
The teams finished 5-9-4 (19 points), tied for fourth place, the Breakers winning the season series with a 2-1-1 record to set up a first-round visit to magicJack in Boca Raton, Fla., Wednesday.
The Breakers converted off the opening kickoff, 14 seconds into the match. Cheney left-footed a shot to the right of goalkeeper Jen Branam after exchanging passes with Keelin Winters in what coach Tony DiCicco termed a set play.
“We were all laughing afterward because we’ve been saying all year to get it to Keelin and we all run in behind, and it worked,’’ Cheney said.
That goal, the fastest in league history, required the unpredictability of a proven scorer, though. Cheney’s second goal, in the 18th minute, was a product of the Breakers’ aggressive attacking and an unsettled Sky Blue defense, which was missing Carrie Dew (suspended).
“I don’t think [Branam] expected me to hit it one-time,’’ Cheney said of the first goal. “The second goal, [Meghan Klingenberg] crossed me the ball and I got a touch on it and the [defender] hit it in.’’
This marked only the sixth time this season the Breakers have produced more than one goal in a game. But Cheney, who sustained a sprained ankle during the World Cup in Germany, provided not only finishing, but the ability to hold the ball and make strong runs.
“It’s been a rough season for us, up and down,’’ Cheney said. “The special thing about this team, and it was the same last year, we never blamed each other, we always stuck together. And I think that shows when it comes to the final game, a have-to, must-win, and you have a performance like that.’’
DiCicco set up the Breakers in a 4-4-2 alignment, pairing US national-teamer Rachel Buehler with Taryn Hemmings in central defense. Sky Blue countered with a 4-2-3-1 setup, going to two forwards as Casey Nogueira entered in the 35th minute.
Though women’s soccer received a boost with the US national team’s run to the final of the World Cup, there are questions about the league’s stability.
“I didn’t want this to be my last game ever,’’ Breakers captain Leslie Osborne said. “I don’t know when I’ll be done, but this group of girls, I’ll give everything I have out there for them and I think everybody on this team feels that way. The fact that we had the opportunity to keep our season going, no one took that for granted.’’
The Breakers won one of four matches against magicJack, losing by scores of 4-0 (July 30) and 2-0 (Aug. 6) in the last two meetings.
“It was not our best performance of the year and it was theirs,’’ Breaker goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher said of the 4-0 loss. “Hopefully, we take the things we learned from that game and change our strategy a little bit and go down there with a different mentality and come back with a win.’’
Christen Press has scored four goals and Abby Wambach three as the magicJack have outscored the Breakers, 8-2, this season.
“We just have to put bodies on them,’’ Naeher said of defending against the magicJack forwards. “Obviously, it’s a lot easier said than done with defending Abby - she’s fantastic in the air and one of best finishers in the world. So, just put an extra body on her, make sure she isn’t getting anything free, make her earn everything. It’s going to be a huge task for our defense, but I think they’re up for it and they’re going to do well.’’
Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.