Freedom 2 Breakers 2

What a great game - lots of attacking, lots of action and a big raucous crowd supporting the home team. The only problem - Keri Raygor . . . I have never seen the life so thoroughly sucked out of a crowd as it was when she put in the equalizer in stoppage time - I just think most of the crowd (and Freedom players and staff for that matter) didn't believe it. Last week the Freedom took a lot of lessons from a rather poor performance and yesterday looked much improved. This week, they'll take some new lessons - most notably that it ain't over 'til it's over, and you very simply can't squander as many opportunities to score as they did. As for Boston - for much of the game they didn't look as good as they did when I saw them in Carolina a few weeks ago, but they showed a tremendous amount of character in the second half. The worse it looked for them, the better they played. There were no slumped shoulders, no frustration and no looks of discouragement - just determination. I looked at the Jumbotron for the replay on DC's second goal and caught a glimpse of Capt. Lilly's face on the screen - I started to worry a bit right then . . . there's something to be said for a team full of veterans and a strong and determined captain to set the tone for everyone else.

And I also want to say a quick word about the double header. I was extremely skeptical and was looking for this not to necessarily be a whole lot of fun. But I have to give it up to the DCUnited fans - the ones who showed (and plenty did) were absolutely 100% into the game and supporting the girls - not one single "women can't play soccer" comment or other such disparaging missive was uttered in my presence. The big DCU drum guy even bought a Freedom shirt at some point and put it on. So thumbs up and thanks United fans - it was a good time.

Well - let's jump in - as for Boston's formation - I'll state right now, I'm sure I'll bungle it - my seats for the double header were far far away from my normal seats - instead of being at the midfield stripe with a nice view of the whole field I was inside the 18 yard box line on the Freedom end with the camera obscuring about 70% of my view of the far side goal (I was not and am not amused).

DC Formation (3-5-2) - back-front, right-left: GK - Siri; D - Little, Stoecker, Barr; M (back) - Grubb, Cromwell; M (front) - Bai Jie, Mia (woohoo) French; F - Pretinha, Milburn. Davey in for Bai, Baumgart in for Milburn and Mia moved up top (woohoo again), Gerardo in for Pretinha.

Boston Formation (well, either a 4-4-2 or a 4-5-1 - as with the last time I saw them there was lots of switching so it was hard to keep track of what midfielder was where - and in the second half, Aldama was spending a ton of time in the midfield as Boston was trying to net a couple - actually she wasn't real shy about charging forward in the first half either - I'll just set 'em up as best as I can for ya, that's all I can do) - back-front, right-left. GK - Ducar; D - Powell, Massengale, Calkins, Aldama; M (this is where I get shaky) Raygor, Weigman, Bartling, then Lilly central and a bit forward from the rest of the midfield line; F - Meinert, Mellgren. Hucles in for Powell at the start of the second half and Boston went with a 3 back (Hucles became a right flank mid), Kemp in for Bartling, Tissue in for Hucles. Meinert was switching back and forth between the front line and the right flank, Raygor played much more central than wide, Lil was where ever she wanted to be but did disappear on the left flank for about 10 minutes in the first half and Bartling switched and went wide right . . . that's all I got - like it was last time I saw them, formation is fairly fluid with them and while not quite as seamless as last time (presumably, Kate's absence has got to be responsible for some of that) they are quite organized in their switching. Again, another advantage to having such a veteran midfield - they can pull this sort of thing off and keep opposing defenses on their heels because eventually, Boston will hit on something the opposition isn't ready for.

Freedom Players - this week will be much more positive than last. I think the whole team was much improved and that's really all anyone can ask. Not looking for perfection, just looking for the same mistakes not to be repeated over and over again - and this week, it was largely new mistakes so that was good. No question that this was a very painful tie, but it's also a lesson learned and I hope they learn it and move on just as they must have done after last week. 90 minutes, don't start celebrating, smiling or feeling good until the final whistle blows, it's a 90 minute game (plus stoppage time - don't forget about stoppage time) - if that's all they take from this one, that's enough. It's very early in a long season, that in one week they could make adjustments and improve so much is a very hopeful sign.

Siri - I actually thought she looked as steady in this one as she's looked. She made some very solid catches and saves. She has an incredible awareness of where her teammates are and often did small things to get the offense rolling. An example - there was a shot which clearly was not going to be on net, if Siri had stepped back it would have gone out over the endline for a goal kick - but Siri saw Skylar about 10 yards ahead of her wide open waiting - so Siri popped out there, punched the ball up to Skylar and Skylar got rolling - it was just a nice little play that showed how alert Siri is back there. She's also taking a bit more control of her box - I was sitting in the perfect spot to hear her in the first half and she's extremely vocal with the defense. In addition, since I commented on this earlier - she's not worrying about landing on her defenders heads to make a save anymore. She nailed Skylar pretty good in this one . . . and Skylar gave her some space soon thereafter. It does seem that after the SD game the book on Siri is to chip her - go up and over. There were 3 separate instances that I can recall where Breakers tried to put one in over Siri . . . well, I guess that's 4 instances, I wasn't counting the one Raygor put in. While Siri didn't look like she was having a ton of trouble with that (she made some very nice catches on those shots), now that DC has seen that's the way the opposition is going to come at her (and that Raygor got one on her going over the top - it was a blast into the upper corner more than a chip shot though) it's definitely something to work on this week.

Little - another nice solid performance - tremendous workrate and I still like her scampering disruptive style. Her service from the backline was much improved - she connected with Bai Jie and Mia very nicely several times. And again, I thought she brought the ball up well herself. The coverage on the backline for defenders charging forward was much more organized so the defenders were more effective bringing it up - there was no midfield stripe "oh my gosh I've gotta stop and get back" panic passing - Cromwell and/or Grubb had them covered much of the time.

Stoecker - Very nice individual performance and the defense looked much much more organized in the first half and for about 20 minutes into the second. Then it fell apart a bit - like I said, Boston just got stronger and stronger as the game progressed and ultimately I think they found a means of attack to which DC just couldn't/didn't respond. Those midfielders (and that young striker) are awfully smart over there and they saw a few holes. And in the late going they were fairly efficient in making the most of the opportunities they had when players were open in the box. But overall, things looked 100% improved from last week - there was even one very nice switch which had Stoecker charging forward into the attacking third and Cromwell settling in back on D. It was very ably and professionally pulled off - while not exactly an earth shattering play, that is the kind of subtle thing that indicates to me that they are meshing, communicating and getting far more comfortable with each other. And again, seeing such improvement only one week after that sort of thing was completely absent has got to be good news. Now what she's got to work on keeping everyone and everything together for a full 90 - that's this week's defensive lesson, I assume. As for service off the backline - much improved and made good things happen on offense. Overall, good stuff from Lindsey and here's hoping the improvement continues.

Barr - last week it was Cromwell slipping - this week Emmy. She made two huge slips right in front of me in the first half. Luckily no damage was done, but relying on luck and great saves by Siri is foolhardy. I know the field was slippery, but she was the only one having that big a problem. She kept losing her footing when she was changing direction close to goal - if you can't get your footing just play it safe and tackle it out. Basically, though, she had a very nice game - I have no real complaints. Boston's attack wasn't great in the first half when Emmy was right in front of me so I don't have just a lot more to say about her.

Grubb - solid game. Nice defensive presence in the midfield. Defending in the midfield was much improved. She was working very well with both the offense and defense. I thought she did a nice job on Wiegman as well - those passing lanes were shut off for much of the first half. Great in the air as usual and she was looking for her own shot a bit more. She fired some blasts in there a couple of times when she had no better options, but didn't really get full force behind any of them and they ultimately weren't dangerous chances. Overall, a much more aggressive and much improved performance from last week.

Cromwell - I thought she did a tremendous job defensively on Lilly in the first half. She stuck to her like glue in the Freedom half of the field and while Lil got a couple of first half chances, nothing too dangerous. Ultimately, Lil had so little room up the middle, she wound up moving out wide left for part of the first half so score one for Cromwell. She worked very well with the defensive line - the help she provided on the backline was much more organized and effective than last week - it wasn't just hanging out covering, it was organized and tactical switching which aided in the attack as much as it more effectively shored up the D. Like with Grubb, a much improved performance. Much better defense through the midfield all the way around.

Bai Jie - now THAT'S how you play the right flank. I thought she had a great game. Tremendous work rate, incredible speed, extremely aggressive offensively and defensively. She's already getting a good feel for some of her teammates - the chemistry between her and Skylar and her and Mia was much better than I thought it would be (or probably should be since she's only been here a couple of weeks). All she needs to do is get 90 minutes fit - although, the way she played that flank, I don't know if that's possible. She was up and down the sideline and cutting inside at the most opportune moments all day long. Some balls I thought Skylar had booted too far, Bai Jie was able to run down - some plays where I thought for sure the speedy Aldama had her beat, Bai Jie zipped by her and came up with the ball. She had a great scoring chance in the first half. She somehow lost her marker but she just put the ball over goal - finishing will come, it was just great to see her so aggressively attacking goal off the flank. Very good stuff and as she gets more time on the field with her teammates she will be a very dangerous option wide right. That position just went from being a lifeless void of inactivity to being one of the most dangerous spots on the field. I like the newest member of the Freedom family very much indeed.

Mia - Ahhhh - Mia in the Middle . . . that's basically all I have to say :-) Well, not exactly - but it will be shorter than the last few, I promise that much. Solid game from Mia. I was unfairly comparing her with Lil again since I had them both to look at and they each were playing in the same spot and serving the same function for their respective teams. And my only complaint with Mia is that she was not looking at goal herself enough - I haven't seen the stats but it seems that no one shoots more and puts more shots on goal for the Breakers than Lil . . . I don't think the same is true for Mia - maybe once Anne gets here to help with the ball distribution it will be. Otherwise, Mia in the middle of the field and spending the entire game in the Breakers half of the field attacking is exactly what the doctor ordered for this team. She was all over the place, moving between the midfield and frontline most of the day and not getting caught back too far on defense - the defense managed just fine without her for much of the game. And just like I said last week, it's not just Mia's game that improves when she has more touches - it's everyone's. One thing I've noticed in the early going is that for better or worse, these teams seem to be taking on the character of their captains - thus Mia confidently and aggressively attacking resulted in the entire team confidently and aggressively attacking. Mia seems to have great chemistry with Milburn already - Milburn was pretty much a nice target for everyone in this one - and is off to a nice start with Bai Jie. And most importantly, the ball was going out to the flanks a lot - Mia was key for that - she'd send it out to Bai or French and they'd target Milburn or Mia on a cross. Again, my only complaint is that she might be a bit too unselfish in that role. Sometimes the best option for Mia is simply Mia. And I do have to say, she looked even more comfortable when she switched up top near the end. The very first offensive possession after Baumgart entered the game was Mia's best chance of the game. And one note about Captain Mia - she needs to keep that temper in check a little bit. I have no idea what was going on at the close of the half but Mia was talking to the ref, and she was getting angrier and angrier and luckily a Freedom official (team was already inside) ran out there and stepped between her and the ref. Team's not going to get a lot of calls if you tick off the ref . . . then again, the Freedom weren't getting many calls in this one anyhow, so I guess no harm was done. In a weird way, it was nice to see her so fired up about something though (probably the French caution if I had to guess - maybe all the missed offsides calls on Boston, or how about the dearth of fouls called on Boston - there were many issues she could have had) - she was definitely going to battle for her team. She just can't lose her cool quite like that when she's battling because he could have legitimately tossed her from the game. Overall though - very nice performance from Mia - the stage is being set for Anne's arrival and it only gets better from here.

French - A solid game - she benefited most from the nice big target Milburn provided. Give it a few games and I bet from Frenchie's foot to Tracey's head becomes a dangerous combination. She was running Powell ragged on the left sideline in the first half and it's a shame nothing more came of it. The ball was definitely getting out wide more than in previous games and I think she responded well. I think she's still feeling her way around that position and her role on the team though. I also think that's something the team might want to start to clarify - in addition to being incredibly fit and technically and tactically sound French has got a cannon and they have yet to even attempt to unleash it. I just think now that they've got Mia where she can actually play her own game and with Anne on the way, the next priority might be defining French's role on the team - she's potentially much too dangerous a weapon to continue to leave idle.

Pretinha - well, I like that DC now has complementary strikers rather than identical ones playing together. She and Milburn work very well together. Nice play between those two on her goal. She had some nice scoring chances, stayed forward well and works fairly well with Mia . . . well, she receives the ball well from Mia - working on the pass back to Mia might be something to think about this week. Overall, though, solid and very active performance.

Milburn - well deserved (and my) Freedom player of the game. As much as I would like to attribute the improved Freedom offense 100% to the Mia switch, Tracey Milburn's play is at least equally responsible. She came out revved up and ready to go from the start. She is an extremely aggressive attacking player and is a nice big target player for the Freedom up top. She's precisely the type of striker who should be paired/teamed with Mia/Roseli/Pretinha type strikers. Her goal was great - very professional - she saw the mishit by Massengale, charged on to the ball, it was just her and Ducar and she placed it perfectly. The assist was similarly impressive - I had a great view of it - she was open with space but probably didn't have the best angle, she took a few steps inside, Pretinha got herself open, Milburn made the perfect pass, Pretinha got behind the D and put it in. Just a very good performance all the way around - what I liked best was the way she was able to combine with the other offensive players - she plays a fairly sophisticated game for one so young. Hopefully she's the real deal and this game wasn't a fluke - two games in a row I've liked what I've seen from her though, so I'm anticipating she becomes a good option for the Freedom on offense.

Davey - she's trying so hard, I've gotta say that for her. I think tactically, however, she has absolutely no idea what she's doing out there and that was extremely costly late in the game. She was wide open on that right sideline, her teammates were consistently getting her the ball and Boston's defense was caught with only 1 or 2 defenders back continually in the last 20 minutes. And Davey managed to turn the ball over or just make horrible decisions almost every single time - one instance even had Mia wide open (only Calkins was anywhere even close) waving at her and yelling - it was painful to watch mainly because she was trying so hard . . . and because one look at those Boston players told me that another goal or two would be a good idea. All that said, she did have a great chance in the 89th minute to put the game away - even there, she should have pulled the trigger a step or two before she did. She has got a ton of raw talent - speed and fit, that's for sure - there were just far too many squandered opportunities. In the last 20 minutes, she was the player who Boston was daring to score or create something and she was unable to make them pay.

Baumgart - she came in and was solid offensively - the ball was getting spread wide right wonderfully - she wasn't pushing forward much like she did against Carolina, though. If DC's plan was to shut it down at that point, they should have shut it down more convincingly and pulled everyone back - that's not what they did, though, so if they were going to attack, she should have been leading the charge. Defensively there was a serious breakdown when all the subs were being made. This goes to the lack of experience organizing the D - they don't adjust well. I don't know if you can really put it on Justi or any of the subs, but there were a lot of open Boston players in the last 20-25 minutes - most notably Lil (who had an awful lot of chances) and of course, Keri Raygor.

Gerardo - well, when you make what I presume is a defensive sub to kill the rest of the game, you need to change the game plan to accommodate that sub. DC didn't do that - Gerardo subbed in and played up top - and instead of pulling back and bunkering, she sat up top with Mia waiting for the ball. I'm not a big fan of killing time, but if Gerardo is the decision you're going to make, then you've already decided to go defensive for the last 13 minutes - and if you're going to go defensive, you may as well keep everyone but Mia (who had moved up top at that point) and a flank back. As for her individual game, I really didn't notice her too too much. The end of this one was kind of a back and forth disorganized track meet by both sides - it was exciting to watch but doesn't really leave me with too much constructive to say.

Boston Players:

Ducar - she had another solid game - I continue to be much more impressed with her ability than I thought I'd be. She made some great stops in this one and came up especially huge in the 89th minute by stopping the Davey shot that would have put the game away. As for the goals - well, her defense set her up to get nailed both times. It was her against an unmarked DC player both times and a GK's chances are never great when that happens.

Powell - She seems to be the weak link on Boston's young backline. I realize the whole D was at an extreme disadvantage because Kate wasn't with them but she was on her heels all night long. French had her beat the entire first half. I also think strength is an issues - French and Powell battling for the ball, French won every time. In addition, with a 4 woman backline, those wing defenders need to get forward a bit and I don't recall her doing that at all. Since the right flank ahead of her was empty a lot of the game (Raygor was pushed in and Meinert was pushed up) she had plenty of room to move around and it wasn't happening. Didn't really notice her more than that - I've only seen Boston twice (I've got a tape of a third game I'll watch sometime this week), but both times I've been underwhelmed.

Massengale - first, on behalf of Freedom fans I would like to thank Lindsey for that first goal :-) What was she thinking doing that little pass across the face of the goal with Tracey standing right there. Basically, they need Kate back. I don't think Mass is at the point where she should be playing in the interior defensively. But, from the sound of it, Kate being out was a last minute kind of thing so Mass gets a bye from me on this one. She still has a tremendous workrate and a very disruptive style. She had a bit more of an opportunity to show what she could do in the second half after Powell went out. Basically, though, she was playing out of position, without the defensive leader upon whom she and the rest of the backline obviously relies so I don't have a lot constructive to say. I'm sure she'll be back on the wing running down every ball and annoying the heck out of opposing offenses soon enough.

Calkins - To be perfectly honest - I didn't notice her that much. Like the rest of the backline she was obviously missing Kate's leadership and instruction. Basically, though, I just missed Calkins in this one - sorry - it's always someone.

Aldama - She had one of the hardest jobs of the night - trying to keep up with Bai Jie. While she couldn't exactly do that, I did see a lot in her game that I liked - and Bai ultimately didn't find goal so that was something. She's got good speed, a good workrate, looks fit, and charges forward up the wing fairly aggressively on offense. She appears to be a fairly tenacious defender as well - she's a lot like Mass was on the wing, but is probably a bit more skilled. I wouldn't be surprised if when Kate comes back Aldama's starting on the backline instead of Powell - a defense of Massengale, Kate, Calkins and Aldama is definitely my preference (and if that's what the lineup was last week - sorry - I don't have that stuff memorized - my perspective/comparisons are basically off of the Week 1 performance against Carolina).

Raygor - she stole my sunshine that's for sure. It's hard to remember anything she did other than that goal . . . it was a very nice goal . . . if you happened to be rooting for the Breakers . . . which I wasn't . . . Like I said at the outset - this team has a lot of character and a tremendous amount of poise. When it all shakes out at the end of the year, I still contend that will be the difference maker. This team without the flash, without the superstars, but with the veteran midfield, young Nat Team defender, up and coming International striker and blue collar role players at the other positions will very quietly and to the surprise of many wind up on top. There was no panic when they got 2 down - they just tightened up and played better, attacked relentlessly and took chances defensively that paid huge dividends. Keri was central to that - she was back on defense and charging forward and obviously getting herself open on offense. Also like I mentioned earlier, these teams are taking on the personalities of their leaders and even as much as Lil, Raygor's is the face of this team: a hard working role player who, with minimal attention to flash, style and media hype, simply gets the job done.

Wiegman - I actually thought DC played a great defensive game against Bettina. Grubb, Cromwell and Stoecker did a great job of shutting off Bettina's passing lanes and I think that was quite troublesome for Boston in the first half. It really wasn't until DC started making some subs and lost some of their offensive and defensive organization that Boston was able to get rolling. Overall, I thought she was pretty effectively neutralized by a strong defensive effort. I don't have a ton more to say than that.

Bartling - Not terribly impressed - then again nothing much was happening wide left even when Lil spent about 10 minutes out there, so that might not have been her fault. She might have been derailed by Bettina's inability to get her the ball. I liked her a bit better when Lil went wide left and she switched to the right side. She made some nice runs. The Boston offense wasn't exactly rockin' in the first half so she just had a quiet game. I'd definitely like to get a better look at her.

Lilly - believe it or not - I don't have just a ton to say. She had a pretty quiet first half. She was getting a lot of touches and was fairly active for the first 20 minutes or so, but there just wasn't a lot of combination play going on. Cromwell was marking her pretty tightly in the Freedom half of the field and she just couldn't find the seam. Second half, however, after that second goal, everything that had been wrong with Boston was right. They started connecting on their passes Lil was very aggressively looking at goal and had some dangerous near misses (she had her share of shots in the first half as well, but nothing that struck me as being particularly dangerous). Basically, a solid but unremarkable game for the first 50 minutes or so. Then she and the team mounted a relentless attack that resulted in fast paced end to end soccer for the remainder of the game. She has got to start hitting on some of those near misses - I know I've been saying that for a year, but she's got to . . . she just does . . . And the way she and her team responded to the 2-0 deficit has to at least be partially attributable to her leadership and the tone she sets with the them.

Meinert - she's got a nose for the back of the net, that's for sure. She seemed to be playing both up top and slipping back on the right flank when Boston wanted to spread the field. Like the rest of Boston, she was far more effective in the second half than the first. She reads the field well and is tactically very impressive. She has great chemistry with her teammates - especially Mellgren. And she's another one - with all the talk of Mia, Mac, Millie, Brazilians, the Atlanta quartet - and even Dagny on her own team - she seems to be as rock solid and as reliable a scoring threat as any of them. It just brings me back to the character of this team again - like Lil, like Raygor, like just about all of them she's not the one in the headlines, she's not the one who's most highly touted - she's just the one quietly and effectively getting the job done.

Mellgren - She's as flashy a player as there is on this team - and by the end of the season I'm betting everyone knows about it. She had the assist on both goals. For such a young striker she reads the game incredibly well. And as she showed in Sydney - if you make a mistake around her you're toast. DC made two mistakes on defense - left players unmarked in the box - and she found the open player and made them pay both times. Both passes were precision strikes to their intended targets and both Meinert and Raygor were able to finish. Ultimately, a very quiet first half and a ruthlessly effective second half. Her ability to derail the team I'm rooting for in the waning seconds of a game is really beginning to get on my nerves :-)

Hucles - another one who I missed - she was a field away from me and wasn't real active so I've got nothin'. And while I'm at it, I've got nothin' on Tissue as well - Hoffman couldn't have been thrilled with Hucles to yank her after less than a half - either that or she was hurt or otherwise needed to come out and I missed it.

Kemp - I continue to like her a lot. Even with a formidable looking brace/wrapping on her knee she was zipping around tirelessly wreaking havoc. I don't have a lot more than that. She seems like a good little spark on offense.

Well - it was a great game - didn't like the finish too much, but it was really a well played game by the Freedom, a character revealing game by the Breakers and an exciting game played by both teams.


PS - Nike came through - Mia now has a very nice captain's band - no more athletic tape - see, I'm just here working to keep you informed on all of the truly important issues of the day . . .