Neither the Boston Breakers nor the Chicago Red Stars are in a playoff position entering their week 11 match-up at Harvard Stadium in Allston, Mass., on Friday night. However, if either team has intentions of playing beyond the regular season, this game is as close to a must win as a must win can be halfway through the season.
“This becomes a very important game for both teams,” Red Stars coach Omid Namazi said. “Boston is right below us and we’d like to put some distance between us and them.”
Both Boston (1-4-4, 7 points) and Chicago (2-5-3, 9 points) are coming off 1-0 losses on the road – Boston to first-place FC Gold Pride; Chicago to last-place Atlanta Beat heading into the match.
“After a disappointing performance in Atlanta, I'm looking for a positive response from the team,” said Namazi. “These games against opponents just below or just above you -- in this case just below -- have a great impact on whether you will finish the season as one of the top four teams who qualify for the playoffs.”
Chicago got the better of Boston in the last meeting, a 2-0 win at Harvard Stadium. But for the Breakers and coach Tony DiCicco, preparing for them is a bit different under a new coach in Namazi (who replaced Emma Hayes since the first meeting). DiCicco has been working on a number of things to prepare.
“First, they have a new coach so we are looking at how their personnel and tactics have changed,” DiCicco began. “Secondly, they are a team with many excellent players and game changers; and third, they are very combative in the midfield so we have worked on playing with less space.”
Boston, who was without Alex Scott on the backline and Kelly Smith in the midfield in the loss to FC Gold Pride (playing with English national team), will have them for the game against Chicago, and this could mean all the difference in pulling out a victory.
“They are world class players and we are better with them in our line-up,” DiCicco said. Namazi has a lot of his focus on Smith.
“She is a very important player for them who makes things happen in the final third,” Namazi said. “So keeping an eye on her and not giving her the time and space to create will be key (to victory).”
Namazi also noted that former Red Stars striker Lindsay Tarpley is a player they will have to keep an eye on.
Meanwhile, the Breakers will have to deal with four Red Stars players returning to action this week. Kosovare Asllani (Sweden), Karen Carney (England) and Katie Chapman (England) are all returning after missing last week’s match while playing with their national team; Natalie Spilger returns to the lineup after serving a one-game red card suspension.
With all the players coming back, Namazi says the team needs to get its rhythm early on if they hope to get a result.
“We have to establish a rhythm early in the game and impose our possession style on the opponent,” said Namazi. “We also have to come out with a lot more energy and sense of urgency in our play than we did last Saturday against Atlanta.”
Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m. ET at Harvard Stadium.
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