New England Soccer Today

Breaking New Ground

Tonight, the Boston Breakers will open the 2011 WPS season against the Atlanta Beat down down at Kennesaw State University ready to kick off another successful WPS season. But, with the Georgia sun slowly setting behind the west stands, they’ll be stepping out onto the pitch at the KSU Soccer Stadium without its most familiar face.

Sure, Kelly Smith, Alex Scott, Leslie Osborne, and Amy LePeilbet will all be there and ready to go in their road white kits. So will Lauren Cheney and Jordan Angeli. And, of course, Tony DiCicco will be there in his familiar royal blue jacket, ready to guide his club to another WPS playoff run.

But, even among the international and league stars, it’ll be impossible to ignore the absence of the greatest player to ever don the royal blue Breakers jersey.

After announcing her retirement earlier this year, Kristine Lilly – the WPS stalwart and star, the most capped player in the sport’s history, and the name synonymous with the Boston Breakers franchise – will not be on the pitch for the club’s first game of the season.

So, without their captain, where do the Breakers go from here, in the first year of the post-Lilly era?

Well, the first thing they do is look ahead with Osborne assuming the captaincy on a full-time basis. Osborne, who co-captained the club with Lilly last year, has a wealth of experience at the international level (61 caps) and in WPS (36 games). As a vocal leader on the pitch, she  is the perfect candidate for the armband. Besides, if anyone has learned how to lead like Lilly, it has to be Osborne.

One area that shouldn’t be a problem for the club this season is its offense. Despite some inconsistent moments last season, the Breakers have never been shy to force the issue and go forward. The attacking corps of Angeli, Smith, Cheney, and newcomer Kelly O’Hara, who arrived from FC Gold Pride after the club disbanded during the offseason, will almost certainly give the Breakers one of the most dangerous attacks in WPS this season.

Holding it down in the midfield along with the calm and collected Osborne will be Liz Bogus and first-round pick Keelin Winters, who actually played under Tony DiCicco as a member of the 2008 U-20 Women’s World Cup champions. Who DiCicco decides to plug into the midfield this season will bear watching, as the middle third is perhaps the biggest question mark outside of Osborne and Bogus.

Back in the defense, the Breakers have one of the most spirited and speedy wingback tandem in Scott and Stephanie Cox, while LePeilbet, the back-to-back WPS Defender of the Year, will skillfully anchor the rear. Behind them will be the dependable Alyssa Naeher, who along with Ashley Phillips, give the Breakers a solid goalkeeping tandem.

Last season, the Breakers came within a whisker of the WPS Championship after dropping a double-overtime heartbreaker to Philadelphia in the WPS semifinal, so there’s certainly reason to be optimistic in Beantown. And while Lilly’s presence certainly aided the club after a poor start, many of the same players who helped the club dig out of the early season ditch are returning with the intent of finally bringing a long-awaited championship to the Hub.

DiCicco, who’s coached some pretty talent squads in the past, may have one of the most talented clubs he’s ever coached on this season. So, while he and his charges may search for a new identity without Lilly, the sun hasn’t set on the team’s chances for a run at a WPS title.

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