Heading into postseason, FC Kansas City is fueled by last year’s playoff loss

08/22/2014 2:43 PM

08/22/2014 2:43 PM

As FC Kansas City prepares for Saturday’s semifinal match against Portland Thorns FC, the Blues still feel the sting of last year’s loss.

One year ago, the Blues went into the National Women’s Soccer League playoffs with the second-best record in the league and later swept the postseason awards. But they fell short of the inaugural championship with a loss to Portland Thorns FC in the semifinals.

FC Kansas City had a two-goal lead 25 minutes into the first half but gave up three unanswered goals including the game-winner which was scored in overtime.

“We came into this year with a chip on our shoulder,” defender Leigh Ann Robinson said. “We have been playing all year working on the things that failed us.”

That frustration has driven them to once again finish the regular season with the second-best record in the league, which helped them earn home-field advantage. They will play host to the Thorns at noon at UMKC’s Durwood Stadium. The game will be shown on ESPN2.

“For the second year in a row we made the small goal of making it into the playoffs and another goal was to play at home,” coach Vlatko Andonovski said. “Now the whole focus is on winning the big one.”

Due in part to the semifinal loss, FC Kansas City came into this season with an emphasis on finishing games. That was evident in their victories as goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart recorded a league-best eight shutouts.

“There was no secret that last year we gave up some late goal in pretty important games down the home stretch,” Robinson said. “We started tightening up our defense all over the field, not just that back four, starting at the very top and working our way back.”

Another factor in their success has been the additions of veteran defender Nikki Phillips, and forwards Amy Rodriguez, Sarah Hagen and Liz Bogus, who all have played crucial roles in this year’s run. Rodriguez, who missed the first NWSL season to give birth to her son, scored 13 goals, second most in the league.

The team also has gotten a lot of production from draft picks Jenna Richmond and Kassey Kallman who have played in 22 and 18 games respectively.

Portland brings a lot of star power as well, with Christine Sinclair, who leads the league in shots on goal. Jessica McDonald is third in goals scored and Veronica Boquete ranks fifth in assists. They also have a healthy Alex Morgan who has six goals and four assists in 13 matches.

Portland won the regular-season series 2-1 with a 3-1 victory, a 1-0 loss and a 7-1 victory already on the books. However, they will have to find a way to beat the Blues at home where they are 8-0-4 on the season.

To reach Kathleen Gier, call 816-234-4875 or send email to kgier@kcstar.com.

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