With six teammates summoned for national team duties this week, FC Kansas City forward Courtney Jones says she sees an opportunity. But she also knows it may not last long.
By SAM McDOWELL
The Kansas City Star
The two-game absences for six starters have provided Jones with a perfect circumstance to showcase her talent, and perhaps even a chance to to make future coaching decisions a little more difficult.
So far, she’s made good on that opportunity. In her first start of the season on Thursday in Chicago, Jones scored her first goal of the season and led the Blues to a 2-0 victory. Her speed disrupted the Chicago back line and allowed FC Kansas City to play a style more geared toward the attack.
That style is likely to stick around for another game. Because the six U.S. and Canada national-team players are missing Sunday’s game against Chicago — a 3:10 p.m. start at Shawnee Mission North District Stadium — Jones is in line for a second straight start after playing as a substitute in the first eight games of the season.
“With Courtney up there, we tend to be a bit more attacking and a bit more direct,” coach Vlatko Andonovski said. “It worked very well, so maybe we’ll try to do something similar (Sunday).”
That decision, though, will depend on the Blues’ available personnel. Forward Renae Cuellar was a full participant during Saturday’s practice session and appears ready to return from a left ankle sprain and left MCL sprain that cost her the last two games.
Jones, 22, figures to be in the starting lineup regardless, but she paired with Melissa Henderson atop the Blues’ formation Thursday. The revamped attack — which also featured midfielder Erika Tymrak for the second time — found some familiarity despite a lack of playing time together.
Tymrak laid a perfect lead pass to set up Jones’ goal. Jones took care of the rest with a bullet to the top shelf, giving the Blues a 2-0 lead in the second half.
“We knew this was coming, so we’ve been practicing with this group,” Jones said. “But putting it all together in a game is a different story. That was an extremely good game for a group that doesn’t usually connect on the field during a game.”
Especially when you consider six players in the lineup were starting for the first time.
And while most had earned playing time off the bench in games earlier this season, that’s not quite the same role, Jones explained.
“Going in as a sub is extremely difficult because you’re expected to sprint everywhere, and that’s exhausting,” Jones said. “Playing the full 90 minutes, you’re in more control of the game. I like it a lot better because you can show your talents and show your coaches something.”
She certainly has the coaching staff’s attention now.
“She had a great impact on the game,” Andonovski said. “I’m not just talking about the goal, but also her ability to set up our offense is crucial. We’re depending on her to play a big role in our offense with the national (team) players out.”