After winning the 2014 NWSL title, FC Kansas City wasn’t satisfied with simply being the league’s defending champion.
Guided by coach Vlatko Andonovski, the Blues duplicated that success one year later by beating the Seattle Reign 1-0 Thursday night at Providence Park.
FCKC’s Amy Rodriguez scored the lone goal of the match on a header in the 78th minute.
The showdown in Portland was a rematch of last year’s title game, a 2-1 win by FC Kansas City.
“To be quite honest, I felt that before the game even started that there was only going to be one goal scored,” said Andonovski, third-year coach of the Blues (10-6-5). “We talked prior to the game, and I told the girls that there is absolutely no room for mistakes. I told them one mistake would decide the game, and I’m glad that we didn’t make any mistakes.
“I felt that we were right on in everything we did from start to finish of the game. Seattle came out and played really strong, which is exactly the way we expected them to do.”
In a match featuring the league’s top two defensive squads, both repeatedly shut down goal-scoring opportunities in a scoreless first half.
FC Kansas City goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart (three saves) and Seattle’s Hope Solo (two) showed their quickness and agility with a number of clutch defensive plays.
The game was a fitting sendoff for FCKC’s Lauren Holiday, a national team star who’d previously announced plans to retire at season’s end.
“It’s awesome being two-time champions, and this is what we intended to do at the beginning of the season,” said Barnhart, who breathed a sigh of relief when a hard shot by Seattle’s Megan Rapinoe glanced off the left post in the second half. “It’s a big accomplishment and it represents a great way for Lauren Holiday to conclude her career.
“Lauren is such an awesome person, and to help her and go out on top like this means a lot to our team.”
Barnhart grabbed a ball off a Seattle cross into the box in the sixth minute. In the 17th minute, Barnhart again collected a ball off a well-placed Reign corner kick. She also had an impressive save in the 19th minute.
Rodriguez, Holiday and Amy LePeilbet each had solid first-half scoring opportunities for the Blues.
Solo scooped up a Rodriquez shot in the 12th minute, and Rodriguez’s blast in the 14th minute went just past the left post.
LePeilet had the Blues’ best scoring chance of the opening half in the 26th minute: her header from about eight yards out zoomed past the right post by about a foot.
FC Kansas City had another good chance to score in the 37th minute after a Seattle foul at the 25-yard line. Holiday took the free kick, but it was deflected over the crossbar.
The second half was nearly identical to the first, with precious few scoring chances.
The Reign nearly got the go-ahead when Rapinoe fired a rocket that ricocheted off the left post in the 62nd minute.
“That’s the type of player Megan Rapinoe is, and you always know that’s she’s capable of hitting some big shots,” said Andonovski. “We were lucky enough to have it bounce off the post and not go into the net.”
The difference-maker came in the 78th minute, when Rodriquez scored her header off Heather O’Reilly’s assist.
“We knew that they were going to be marking Amy Rodriguez very strong, but she’s a true goal scorer who is capable of changing the game in our favor,” said Andonovski. “All she needed was a little room to get open and then she was able to put it in.”
The Reign nearly knotted it in the 85th minute when Rapinoe blasted a shot from 18 yards, but Barnhart’s clutch save preserved the lead.
“That was a really good shot by Megan and luckily it came right at me,” said Barnhart, who recorded her 10th shutout of the season. “If that went a little to one side or the other, it might’ve made it a little tougher for me to get the save.
“To come out here and get that one goal we needed to win the championship is just incredible.”