SOMERVILLE -- The Boston Breakers need to shore up their defense before they kick off the 2013 season April 14 against the Washington Spirit in the brand new, National Women's Soccer League. On Tuesday night, the defense was hung out to dry too often as the Breakers fell, 3-2, to Sky Blue FC in a preseason game at Dilboy Stadium.
Against Sky Blue, veteran defender Cat Whitehill, now in her second season with Boston, paired in central defense with Kia McNeill, recently signed from Atlanta, while Bianca D'Agostino started at left back and Canadian national team midfielder Rhian Wilkinson slotted in at right back.
The learning curve for this group of defenders has been steep.
D'Agostino is a converted midfielder and made her first appearance at left back on Tuesday. And Wilkinson is still getting used to playing right back since she's played in midfield for her most recent international games with Canada.
"D'Agostino is new to being a defender, Whitehill and McNeill are used to leading their own backlines, and Wilkinson has had a huge adjustment with us because the way she plays for Canada and the way we want her to play is different," said Breakers coach Lisa Cole.
Heather Mitts, whom the Breakers signed via the allocation draft in February, unexpectedly announced her retirement two weeks ago. A veteran of two World Cups and three Olympic Games, she would have aided Whitehill in transitioning the new defenders to a new style of play.
Casey Short, whom the Breakers signed in the first round of the college draft, tore her ACL and will likely be out for the entire season. She was expected to add another dimension to the defense. Her absence now only provides Cole with a shorter list of options for the backline.
Whitehill will be charged with establishing familiarity in defense, though 2 1/2 weeks worth of training sessions and preseason matches should help her in the gelling process.
She already communicated to Cole what the team needs to work on defensively in their next session.
"Two of the goals on Tuesday were all about marking," Whitehill explained. "I just told Lisa that we need to work on marking in the box for next week. I want that to be a focus, not just for defenders."
Whitehill will need help from her goalkeepers too. And there's plenty of work to be done in that department. Cecilia Santiago, Mexico's starting goalkeeper, will join the Breakers later, but doesn't speak English, a setback in establishing familiarity between her and the backline.
Santiago's understudy, Colleen Boyd, played the entire game on Tuesday and made important saves, while also making key errors. Boyd didn't challenge a cross off a corner kick that led to Sky Blue's second goal.
"Boyd is a young player, she made young player mistakes," said Cole. "She's young, she's still learning. On that corner, she's 5-10, she should dominate in the air. She’s at least got to go out and make a challenge on the cross."
"It takes a while to get used to a new defense, and I think that's preseason blues a bit," added Whitehill. "It's only the second game we've played together. Boyd and I are still sorting out each other and she's still sorting out the defense."
"But she's a tall goalkeeper. If she can own the box the way we know she can, then we'll be successful. She just has to gain the confidence and slowly but surely it's coming."
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