The Washington Freedom and the Boston Breakers battled to a scoreless draw at the Maryland SoccerPlex in windy Boyds, Md., Saturday, in front of 4,198 spectators.
It was the second meeting of the two teams within a month, with the Breakers winning the first game 2-1 thanks to goals from rookie Lauren Cheney and Kelly Smith.
"You can see [Freedom's] coming together. They had four games under their belt and they were starting to connect," said Breakers defender Amy LePeilbet. "Their midfield was doing a good job in keeping the ball. I think in the first half their midfield outplayed our midfield.
"We then had to change it and pick it up a level, and I think we did better but you could see both teams coming along. It was the first match of the year, in the last game that we played. It was kind of getting the jitters out, everyone getting on the same page, and you could see the teams building and getting stronger now."
The defensive-heavy rematch was Breakers goalkeeper Ashley Phillips' first shutout in her WPS career. Phillips was a developmental player in the 2009 season who worked her way to a starting position in the first Freedom-Breakers game of the 2010 season. She has made 21 saves so far with a goals against average of 1.00.
The match also saw the first shutout of the new Freedom backline. "We were really proud of that," said Freedom midfielder Sarah Huffman. "All four backs and [goalkeeper] Erin [McLeod], I think they did a great job. They made a lot of strides since we started and I think we can keep this ball going. They played against some great attacking players today and they deserve a lot of credit."
Both teams struggled to have control of the ball as the strong wind caused problems for long balls and crosses. "It's weather for both teams," said Freedom defender Nikki Marshall. "Balls will stay in the air or they'll just fly past you so you just have to be on your toes and be ready and expect anything."
Notably absent from the Freedom roster were Australian forward Lisa De Vanna and Japanese midfielder Homare Sawa, who were both called up to compete at the AFC Asian Cup for their respective national teams. This gave midfielder Jill Gilbeau her first start of the season and allowed another chance for Norwegian forward Lene Mykjaland to take De Vanna's spot up top with Abby Wambach.
Brittany Bock saw her first WPS action of the year—and marked her debut as a Freedom player—when she came in at the 77th minute to replace Mykjaland. The former member of the LA Sol missed the first four games of the season as she nursed an injury.
The Freedom will have their chance to play in the new KSU Soccer Stadium, home of the Atlanta Beat and the 2010 WPS All-Star Game, next Sunday, May 16. The match against the Beat will be broadcast live on Fox Soccer Channel at 6 PM ET.
PHOTO CREDIT: Charlotte Mace