HeartBreakers

HeartBreakers

How a team changed the path of a young woman's path

By Celia Balf

While most of my childhood friends were idolizing Lizzie McGuire and strutting their stuff in Hollister tanks, I was wearing a headband over my hair to look like Boston Breakers’ centerback Amy LePeilbet. At the same time, I was asking my parents if I could get a dragon tattoo on my thigh because the Breakers had just signed a Brazilian forward named Fabiana who had a thigh tattoo.

Author Celia Balf (third from back right) after a Breakers game with Waring School group

Author Celia Balf (third from back right) after a Breakers game with Waring School group

The Boston Breakers, during their WUSA years (2001-2003), shaped my childhood—weekends were spent traveling to Harvard Stadium to watch them play, and mornings before school meant beating the sun to go running with the thought that maybe one day, I would be a Breaker too.

Having a women’s professional soccer team growing up meant I didn’t just have one role model, or a Lizzie McGuire-type to fangirl over, but I had 11-plus. The openness of the Breakers organization meant after games I could get all my Dunkin Donut napkins covered in player signatures. By openness what I really mean is access and humility—the league in all its forms (from WUSA to the NWSL) had a way of genuinely touching fans and connecting to the cities in ways other leagues and sports never have.

Adriana Leon with fans before a game

Adriana Leon with fans before a game

An example of this dates back to eighth grade for me. For a writing assignment I took it into my own hands to schedule an interview with former national team coach and then Breakers coach Tony DiCicco. Looking back, I’m not even sure how this happened, but it did.

I vividly remember buckling in the knees, my hand gripping my stupid bright pink pen, and scribbling away. I don’t even remember what I asked him, but there I was, not even a highschooler yet interviewing one of the most famous U.S. soccer coaches in the world one-on-one. I wish I could find this Q&A, because ultimately that conversation, no matter how rough it went made me believe that if my first dream to become a professional soccer player didn’t work out, I would be a sports journalist.

Celia, while playing for UAlbany 

Celia, while playing for UAlbany 

Fast forward almost 10 years, and I am not gearing up for a professional soccer season. I may have never been able to tie up a pair of Puma cleats (circa Breakers puma days), but I did get to be a part of this Boston family that has outlasted every other club in the league.

When the National Women’s Soccer League announced that the Breakers would not be moving forward for the 2018 season I didn’t know what to say or do. My fingers that usually can tweet out without second thought were numb, my legs hurt like I had just ran the beep test, and above all else my heart hurt. I may have never been able to say I was a Breakers player, but I truly believe I was a part of that family. I played with so many of those girls in summer leagues, I painted my nails before games after finding out it was Jordan Angeli’s secret weapon. So much of what I did, or strived to do was shaped because of the Boston Breakers.

While my career never progressed into a professional one, I played division 1 soccer at UAlbany for four years. I tore my ACL for the second time end of my freshman year and I remember thinking, ‘If I can’t even become a professional athlete, what am I going to do?’ Ironically enough, the Breakers had shaped another part of me. I could be a sports writer; and even more than that, I could cover women’s soccer for a living. I mean, my first interview was with Tony-freaking-DiCicco, I got this.

Celia (right) while playing for UAlbany 

Celia (right) while playing for UAlbany 

So here I am. Looking back at my life, now 24-years-old and having an incredibly hard time thinking of a time, when the Breakers weren’t in my life. Right now, as the organization says its goodbye, I don’t have words to describe how grateful I am for the friendships it has given me, the confidence it has instilled in me, and the 10-plus-years AND counting of laughter and tears. I know I am not the first and definitely not the last with a story to share about the Breakers, but I will say that when I realized I wasn’t going to be a professional soccer player it was hard—but knowing that the team that created that dream and blossomed my career is finished, is much, much harder.

 

Anya Alvarez