FC Kansas City’s Cuellar a spark for Blues entering season opener

04/12/2013 2:12 PM

05/20/2014 10:42 AM

FC Kansas City Blues forward Renae Cuellar did just about everything right. She timed her run perfectly. After receiving a pass, she tapped the ball past a diving goalkeeper. She followed with a quick move and suddenly looked toward an open net.

A display of skill and speed illuminated why Cuellar has developed into the team's top scoring option before it even plays its first game.

Well, except for this: She rolled the ensuing shot inches wide of an open goal.

"I was a little excited," Cuellar said as she laughed. "Could you tell?

"I get out here, and I'm just ready to go."

No worries. The miss came on her first opportunity of the Blues' exhibition game Saturday against the University of Nebraska — the team's final tune-up before Saturday's National Women's Soccer League inaugural game. FC Kansas City will play host to Portland FC at 7:35 Saturday at Shawnee Mission North District Stadium, kicking off the new league as the lone game on its schedule tonight.

The gaffe was Cuellar's only such blunder of the game. Less than two minutes later, she scored the first goal of a five-score game in an 8-0 exhibition victory. She had a hat trick prior to halftime and also added an assist.

It's a simple story — one that is easy to gloss over in an exhibition game. But within that anecdote lies the undefinable quality that FC Kansas City coach Vlatko Andonovski has come to love with his top striker.

"If something good doesn't happen for her, she will come right back and get it back," Andonovski said. "She is a true goal scorer. She doesn't need a lot to score. She'll make things happen from nothing."

As it turns out, that's exactly what the Blues needed to balance out a roster once thought to be heavy on the defensive end.

In the initial allocation of national team players — three from the United States, two from Canada and two from Mexico (although Marilyn Diaz opted not to join the team) — FC Kansas City saw a flurry of strong defensive players, but not much in the way of offense.

There is Lauren Chaney, of course, who is a playmaking midfielder with the ability to score goals in bunches. But Cuellar, who plays for the Mexican national team, was the only true striker among the six players.

After the allocation process, a pleased FC Kansas City president Brian Budzinski remarked he would shift his free agent attention to offensive-minded players, and he since added players like Kristie Mewis and Melissa Henderson.

Perhaps the Blues had more offense than they realized. Andonovski called Cuellar the best surprise of the monthlong training camp, adding that some of her possession skills caught him by surprise.

It's caught the eye of teammates, too.

"She's going to be lethal for us," midfielder Casey Loyd said. "If she can keep scoring like this, that makes us that much tougher."

It is, of course, too early to call Cuellar a success story. After all, the games don't count until tonight.

But the comfort level is already there, which is no surprise given Cuellar's background.

Only a year ago, she was selected the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year after scoring 12 goals for Oklahoma — third most in school history.

She has a similar role in Kansas City — just the way she prefers it.

"I like the weight on my shoulders," Cuellar said before smiling. "I think it's a good thing."

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