New England Soccer Today

Leroux’s Late Equalizer Saves Breakers in Opener

SOMERVILLE, Mass – Down a goal late, it seemed as if the Boston Breakers were going to fall to the Washington Spirit in Sunday’s season opener. But Sydney Leroux’s stoppage time strike helped the hosts salvage a 1-1 draw at Dilboy Stadium.

Despite having most of the game’s chances and controlling the bulk of the possession, the Breakers had to wait until the waning moments before they found the scoreboard. Washington goalkeeper Ashlynn Harris made seven saves, but couldn’t keep Leroux — who had been knocking on the door all game long — from grabbing her dramatic equalizer in the 91st minute.

“To get the point at the end was good,” said Breakers head coach Lisa Cole. “I thought it was only going to be a matter of time, but I thought we were going to run out of time. But yeah, I thought the goal was coming. We were battling and battling. They got tighter in their defense and that makes it harder to score.”

The Breakers fell behind early off a defensive lapse. In the 15th minute, Tiffany McCarty found space in between Kia McNeill and Cat Whitehill and headed a cross by Stephanie Ochs into the net past Ashley Phillips.

“We were letting in too many crosses,” explained Whitehill. “We stopped that in the second half. But we have to get better at marking in the box. It’s happened in the [past] too. So it’s something that we’re going to work on.”

The Breakers looked for the quick response but were thwarted by the Spirit, who quickly dropped numbers. After they scored, the Spirit only went forward via counter attacks and often had ten players behind the ball.

Heather O’Reilly had the first bid at an equalizer, a chip in the 25th minute that Harris plucked out of the air. Moments later, she fed Kyah Simon, who had her line drive from the top off the penalty area tipped over by Harris.

Then, the Spirit switched out of their defensive shell and nearly doubled their lead. In the 41st minute Diana Matheson collected a long ball from McCarty, cut to the center of midfield, and fired a shot from twenty five yards that clanked off the crossbar and bounced out of play.

Matheson’s shot off the woodwork didn’t push the Spirit to attack with numbers, as Boston remained the more offensive team into the second half. But the Breakers, playing in 4-3-3 formation with Leroux, Simon, and Katie Schoepfer as forwards, looked even more urgent to find an equalizer.

But on the attack, the trio often got crossed up in a part of the field that was already congested due to Washington’s defensive shape. As a result, the only real attempt at goal was a bullet from outside the penalty area by O’Reilly that Harris palmed away in the 55th minute.

“We had so many opportunities,” said Whitehill. “We kept getting a knick here, a knick there. We were playing well, but we just weren’t getting enough separation to get that shot. Harris played great. Their defense played great. But expected them to be a frustrating defense, they had a great game plan.”

Cole made a change that would free up space for the Breakers to attack, withdrawing Simon as the third forward for midfielder Libby Guess in the 76th minute. The switch paid off, as Guess would produce the play that led to LeRoux’s late equalizer.

On their first connection, she played Leroux in behind the defense in the 76th minute. Leroux slid onto the pass, connecting with Harris in the process. Harris managed to deflected away LeRoux’s effort, though she stayed on the turf for a few moments as she took a cleat to the face. Leroux didn’t walk away unscathed either, her both her legs bruised and bloody from the collision.

However, Leroux made her second bite at the apple pay off. In the final seconds of stoppage time, she collected a pass from Guess on the left side of the penalty and fired a first-time shot at the far post that rolled into the net.

The goal brought the sell-out crowd of 2,634 to its feet.

“I’ve got a few,” said Leroux of her bruises. “I slid and we both hit each other. It’s going to be difficult to score. It’s not going to be 5-0, 6-0 games anymore. We fought until the end, and we came out with a point.

“The crowd was amazing. I’m glad we made it exciting. Hopefully we don’t make it that exciting next time and we finish the game earlier.”

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