Tuesday, May 28, 2024

The Boston Breakers' pep band, Grooversity, helps energize a crowd of 6,222 despite the sweltering heat July 24 at Harvard Stadium. (Photos: Nick Nehamas)

Marta, the Brazilian soccer superstar playing with the Western New York Flash, signs autographs for fans after a 2-2 draw with the Breakers.

A loud and supportive crowd welcomed the Boston Breakers back to Harvard Stadium on July 24 as they took on the Western New York Flash. It was Boston’s first home game since the United States lost the Women’s World Cup Final in Germany on July 17. The Breakers had five players on the U.S. team and another who lifted the trophy with victors Japan, so coach Tony DiCicco decided to rest his overworked stars. Only Kelley O’Hara, who played just one game as a substitute at the World Cup, made the starting lineup.

O’Hara got the game going when she opened the scoring in the 20th minute, sending the Breakers’ fans into a frenzy — especially Boston’s hard-core cheering section, the Riptide. Dressed all in blue, members of the Riptide sang, chanted and waved flags throughout the game, doing their best to recreate the atmosphere of a high-profile European match. The Riptide also tried to rattle Marta, the Flash’s Brazilian attacker, who is considered the best female soccer player in the world though Brazil were bounced from the World Cup by the United States at the quarterfinal stage. Every time Marta touched the ball, she was loudly razzed by the Riptide and the Breakers’ pep band, Grooversity.

Nevertheless, Marta’s trademark skill and dribbling ability were unaffected by the catcalls: she tied the game seven minutes from halftime with an almost impossible goal. Marta found herself free of defenders near the top-left corner of the box, seemingly without an angle on the net. But she placed her effort perfectly, just inside the far post and past the hands of Boston’s diving ’keeper, Alyssa Naeher.

The second half was scoreless until the 84th minute, when O’Hara got her second goal of the match after finishing a well-executed one-two with teammate Meghan Klinkenberg. But the Breakers, like their national team counterparts, couldn’t hold onto the lead. Just three minutes later, Boston failed to clear a Flash free kick into the box and paid the price. The ball bounced around until New York’s Alex Morgan, who scored twice for the U.S. team at the World Cup, flicked it over Naeher and into the net with the outside of her left foot. It was a fine strike, though the Riptide loudly bemoaned what they saw as a “fluke” goal.

The Breakers, who went on to lose their next two games to Philadelphia and the magicJack of Boca Raton, are second from the bottom in the six-team Women’s Professional Soccer league but still have a chance to clinch one of the two remaining playoff berths.

The 6,222 fans in attendance were “definitely more than usual,” said Marcus Santos, leader of the Breaker’s pep band, and team officials confirmed this was their largest home crowd of the season. Marta’s presence had something to do with it — there were a number of Brazil’s familiar green and yellow jerseys in the crowd, and the Flash’s superstar hung around to sign autographs long after the other players had left the field. But interest in women’s soccer also seems to be on the rise.

It’s “good, quality soccer,” said Iggy Farias, a longtime Breakers’ fan, summing up the match. “It’s the best players in the world. Why not come? And only 15 bucks!”

The Boston Globe reports that Breakers’ ticket sales are up 400 percent since the United States’ quarterfinal victory over Brazil in the World Cup.