So much for a welcome-back party.
FC Kansas City striker Renae Cuellar made a grand entrance in her return to the starting lineup Sunday against Chicago, needing only three minutes to add to her team-leading goal total. But Chicago made sure the celebration didn’t last long.
After Cuellar scored her fifth goal of the season, Chicago aggressively responded with a flurry of three goals, handing FC Kansas City its second consecutive home loss, in front of 3,421 fans at Shawnee Mission North District Stadium. Chicago prevailed 3-1, avenging a 2-0 FC Kansas City win in Chicago only three days earlier.
“It started out so well,” Cuellar said of her return to the lineup. “But the things went wrong, and it just didn’t happen for us.”
And they went wrong in a hurry.
Cuellar provided a promising start when she tapped in a crossing pass from Courtney Jones toward the near post in the third minute. After missing a pair of games because of a left ankle sprain and left MCL sprain, Cuellar regained the team lead with five goals for the season.
FC Kansas City, 5-4-1, nearly scored on an identical play only 10 minutes later, but that was the last of the quality scoring chances.
Well, for FC Kansas City anyway.
Chicago didn’t go quietly, instead electing to push significant numbers forward. After being dominated for the majority of the game Thursday, Chicago tweaked its offensive strategy Sunday, opting to try long passes against the center of a FC Kansas City defense featuring a pair of players — Katie Kelly and Nia Williams — starting for only the second time this season.
“They felt like that’s our weakness, and that’s where they wanted to get the ball through,” FC Kansas City coach Vlatko Andonovski said.
Chicago eventually found the holes.
In the 29th minute, Chicago captain Lori Chalupny lobbed a pass to Inka Grings, who scored for the first time this season, evening the score at 1-1. Ella Masar added the go-ahead goal in the 58th minute on a counter-attack — also her first goal of the year — and Sonja Fuss capped the series of unanswered goals with a penalty kick in extra time after Chalupny drew a foul in the goalie box.
“That’s not the start we wanted in hot conditions, but it was a good effort,” Chalupny said. “I think this was an important game for us. We felt like we had to get that first goal back.”
They earned the equalizer. And then some.
Chicago took advantage of some visibly tired legs on the FC Kansas City side. The Blues were playing their fourth game in 11 days — and they took the field shorthanded.
For the second straight game, they played without four U.S. and two Canada national team players. As a result, Andonovski used only one substitution Sunday.
The Blues return home at full strength for a 3:10 p.m. Sunday match against Washington.
“We played well for the first 20 minutes, mainly because of fresh legs,” Andonovski said. “But after that, every minute was getting harder and harder.”