In this weekly series, I will be highlighting a player from the weekend who was their respective team’s unsung hero, win, lose or draw. A player who does the dirty work, does the little but important things in a game and someone who didn’t exactly fill up the stat sheet but found other ways to contribute.
This week I’ve chosen Boston Breaker defender Julie King.
King (like myself) is a Saint Louis native who has quietly become an iron woman of the NWSL. Since she signed with the Breakers in 2012 back in the league’s infancy, she has played in 101 games in a Boston jersey. This now puts her just one shy of Kristine Lilly, the United States legend who also played her club ball for Boston in its WUSA and WPS iterations. It’s been tough first five seasons in the NWSL for Boston, who have yet to make the playoffs and have gone through three different head coaches. Yet, they’ve had some incredible talent suit up for them. A few of those names include Lilly, Kelly Smith, Lauren Holiday, and Amy LePeilbet in the WPS years, as well as Heather O’Reilly, Heather Mitts, Adriana Leon, and Sydney Leroux in the NWSL years.
But through it all, the now 27-year-old King has been a steady presence on the roster, and has grown up tremendously in this league. And now she captains the Breakers as they attempt to change their history and make a play for the post-season.
Boston 1-1 Seattle:
The Breakers had their work cut out for them heading into this game with the Reign, who have a 13-game unbeaten streak at home in Memorial Stadium. Containing Seattle was no easy task, especially with Megan Rapinoe in fabulous form this year with nine goals, and sitting in fifth on the table, but King and the Breakers were more than up for the task. Seattle is also the league-leaders in goals scored this season (25), different goal-scorers (nine) and draws (six). But Boston has been on an impressive run of their own, recording three shutouts with rookie goalkeeper Sammy Jo Prudhomme getting the job done until Abby Smith returned for this game.
King made her first appearance on the radar in the 17th minute when she slowed down Seattle’s Rebekah Stott as she raced towards the Breakers’ goal. The veteran slid in to cover her and didn’t let Stott get off a shot or pass. Just a minute later she had to deal with Merritt Mathias in the middle of the Breakers’ defensive end at the top of the 18. She faced Mathias up and managed to get a toe-poke in, showing she isn’t afraid to approach opposing forwards to attempt to win the ball.
Both teams had important players missing for them, which affected their respective game plans. Seattle’s creative midfielder Jess Fishlock was out with a knee injury, while Boston’s Allysha Chapman, who always provides a strong presence on the backline, was out due to yellow card accumulation. Thanks to the absence of Chapman, the backline was a bit different than usual, with King, Amanda Frisbie, Megan Oyster, Christen Westphal. So, communication was vital throughout the first half and King was seen pointing and giving direction to her teammates, putting them in a better position to defend. Little things like that are reasons why she has succeeded in this league.
It was a quite a chess match between King and Mathias, as the two players were willing to take on each other all night, whenever the opportunity presented itself. King challenged the forward again in the 22nd minute, shaking the ball loose and winning possession for her team. Just before halftime she offered her hand in the offensive third, taking a long throw-in deep in Seattle’s half. It almost created something out of nothing as it went off a Reign defender amid confusion, which nearly resulted in an own goal in the Breakers’ favor.
In the 65th minute King sacrificed her body to take away a chance for Seattle’s Christine Nairn, who blasted a shot right off the right leg of King 20 yards from goal. King didn’t even flinch as she stood in front of it, standing her ground long enough to absorb the lethal shot that looked like it would’ve been on target and put the Reign ahead.
In the 73rd minute the defender showed off her skills on the offensive end once again, this time with her feet. She won a loose ball just inside the 18, wove around Stott to slip a pass to Natasha Dowie, who was unfortunately offside. King isn’t usually the kind of player who gets that deep into the offense but it was a wonderful reminder that she can be more than just a central defender. She was smooth on the ball, working well in a tight space to show her mobility as a player.
In the end, the Reign scored a wonder goal courtesy of Nahomi Kawasumi and the Breakers scored the tying goal through the combined efforts of Westphal and Adriana Leon. The hard-fought game ended with a 1-1 draw, and while the result certainly was disappointing for Seattle supporters, I believe it was an encouraging one for Boston to come from behind and earn a point on the road.
For the past five years King has been Boston’s iron woman, a player who does everything she’s asked, who gives everything each and every game. She’s been a consistent player on a team that’s been unfortunately inconsistent over the years. But despite it all, King holds her own against the best forwards in the league. She keeps the flame of hope alive in Boston, and if she and the team can continue to put in this kind of effort, I think the Breakers could climb a few spots and finally make it to the next level this year.