A National Women’s Soccer League campaign that began with a heaping dose of promise took a hit Sunday night when FC Kansas City, playing its season opener at Swope Soccer Village, lost a veteran starter early in the second half of a 2-0 win over the Boston Breakers.
Amy Rodriguez, who like Sydney Leroux missed action in 2016 while on maternity leave, awkwardly handled a pass in the 54th minute after a Boston player knocked into her right side. The momentum forced Rodriguez to the ground, where she curled in on her left side and pounded the ground as coach Vlatko Andonovski and trainers approached.
After being tended to for about three minutes, Rodriguez was carried off the field on a stretcher because of an injury to her left knee. The extent of the damage will not be known until she undergoes evaluations Monday.
She left with a bandage wrapped so tightly around her leg that it made it look twice its normal size.
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“We’re just hoping it’s not as bad as the first impression was,” Andonovski said.
Rodriguez scored the Blues’ second goal of the game in the 48th minute. She hadn’t played in an NWSL match since the 2015 championship, when her goal was FCKC’s only score the day the club clinched back-to-back titles.
Before the crowd was stifled by the loss of Rodriguez, the 3,340 spectators witnessed a lineup that featured three powerful forwards at the top — a significant departure from a team that last year only had one in Shea Groom.
Leroux, who finally made her debut for the club that traded for her in January 2016, barely waited eight minutes to shake off the rust. On a long pass from Becky Sauerbrunn in the seventh minute, she took her first touch of the game and found the left back corner of the net to give FC Kansas City a 1-0 lead.
“I had forgotten what it felt like to play free and to play happy,” said Leroux, whose second shot on goal was denied. “I got to do that today, even though I was a little tired towards the end. I have to continue to push myself and get back to where I once was.”
It’s been nearly two years since Leroux suited up for the United States women’s national team and came home a gold medalist.
Leroux then chose to undergo an ankle surgery that kept her from continuing her season for the Western New York Flash. She hadn’t scored in a professional game since she played three matches for the Flash prior to the 2015 FIFA World Cup.
“Being a part of Syd’s journey, being there every single day, I watched her take that shot hundreds of times during the offseason,” said Groom, who didn’t score a goal but got an assist on Rodriguez’s shot. “To see her put one away, you could see it on her face right after it went in the back of the net, the sheer joy. Same with A-Rod. … To see them get to shine in their first game back and provide us with the win with those two goals is just incredible.”
Contending with all three FCKC forwards on the field simultaneously was difficult for the Breakers, who only managed to win six tackles from the Blues. But the Breakers blocked four FCKC shots.
Christina Gibbons, FCKC’s top 2017 draft pick, made her NWSL debut and was instrumental in keeping the Breakers outside the box on eight of their 14 shots. They only made five attempts on goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart in the second half.
“(Gibbons) made very good decisions throughout the whole game,” Andonovski said. “She was actually our way out of pressure, helped us solve our problems on the side and helped us separate the ball around the back.”
FC Kansas City, which opened the season with a win for the first time in its short history, will next play on the road against the Chicago Red Stars at 3 p.m. Saturday.