One year after winning every award the National Women’s Soccer League offers — top coach, defender, goalkeeper, rookie and most valuable player — FC Kansas City has now added a league championship.
Amy Rodriguez scored two goals off assists from her roommate, 2013 MVP Lauren Holiday, and the Blues held off a determined attack during the closing 10 minutes to defeat the top-seeded Seattle Reign 2-1 Sunday in the NWSL championship game in front of 4,252 at the Starfire Sports Complex in one of Seattle’s southern suburbs.
For coach Vlatko Andonovski, last season’s NWSL coach of the year, the outcome was a dream come true.
“I don’t know if I’m happier for myself or for the girls,” Andonovski said. “I’ve seen them practice so hard the whole season. They practice in snow, rain, in Kansas City tornadoes, in everything to win this. I’m so proud and so happy for them. If there’s a team that deserves it, it’s these girls.”
FC Kansas City, 0-1-2 against the Reign during the 2014 regular season, was outshot 14-5 for the match, 9-3 in the second half.
Yet the Holiday-Rodriguez connection gave FC Kansas City a 2-0 lead after goals in the 22nd and 56th minutes.
The Reign (16-3-6), which had not lost a 2014 match on its regular-season home field (8-0-4), downtown’s Memorial Stadium, battled back fiercely in the closing minutes and pulled within a goal in the 86th minute when Megan Rapinoe blasted home a rebound from 15 yards out.
Rapinoe had a prime opportunity to tie the match in the closing seconds of second-half stoppage time but, with no one between her and KC goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart, Rapinoe badly hooked a left-footed shot, sending it far right of Barnhart’s vulnerable far post.
“I scuffed it,” a disconsolate Rapinoe said afterward.
Andonovski says Kansas City (13-7-5) defeated a tough opponent due to a blend of skill, savvy and heart.
“We knew they were better than us throughout the season,” he said. “They were better than us in three games. They were first place (in regular-season standings), we were second.
“But one thing we knew, no one was going to be better than us these last 90 minutes. When you have players believing that, when you get them pulling toward the same goal, with the same belief, it shows on the field.”
Holiday found an all-alone Rodriguez with a short pass to the top of the box. Seattle defender Kendall Fletcher and slipped second earlier, allowing Rodriguez to arc a floating shot over the head of Seattle’s retreating goalkeeper, Hope Solo. The ball dropped into the far corner of the net for a 1-0 lead.
Holiday made the move of the day when setting up Rodriguez in the second half. Marked tightly by Seattle defenders Lauren Barnes and Keelin Winters, Holiday somehow squeezed her way between the two and zipped a low right-to-left cross to a fast-closing Rodriguez, who rocketed home a chest-high shot that eluded the outstretched right arm of a lunging Solo.
“I don’t know if I have the words to express what kind of player she is,” Andonovski said of Holiday. “She’s a magician. In this game you could see the kind of magic she can do, but I’ve seen it the whole season. All the players around her, she makes them better, makes them work harder.
“That’s not just the player she is, that’s the person she is,” he said. “I call her Robin Hood. She always fights for everyone, wants to be there for her teammates, especially for the underdogs. I had a meeting with her last night and she told me she loves playing for someone, and I guess she proved it today.”
Holiday, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was sizing up her scoring chances before she spotted Rodriguez and made a pinpoint pass.
“I was trying to score, actually,” she said, “but they closed in on me. I’m glad I found her.”
Twice during the regular season, the Blues led Seattle 1-0 at halftime but both times wound up settling for ties. Defeating Seattle, Holiday conceded, is no easy task.
“Seattle has been great all season,” she said. “They have so much attacking presence, and we weathered the storm early and were able to get a goal, settle down and play our game. To weather that storm is a testament to our back line.”
Part of that back line was defender Kassey Kallman. “We were very disciplined,” she said. “We worked on defensive shape a lot this week. We were trying to keep the numbers compact. Obviously (Seattle’s) Kim Little (the NWSL’s leading scorer and 2014 MVP) is someone you have to be worried about, so we were sometimes double- and triple-teaming her.
“We got lucky a couple of times against her,” she said. “Some people made some big plays, so I think it was a little bit of luck and a little bit of preparation.”
Rodriguez, obtained in an offseason trade from Seattle, was thrilled with the outcome.
“When I stop to think about it, I think, ‘What a season,’” she said. “Vlatko has assembled an excellent squad. We have some of the best players in the world. From front to back I thought we played an excellent season, and I’m so happy we could top it off with a championship.”