OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — An overflow crowd of 6,784 jammed its way into Shawnee Mission High School Stadium to witness the debut match of the National Women’s Soccer League, and they were treated to everything but a win for the home side. Christine Sinclair’s second half penalty cancelled Renae Cuellar’s historic league-opening goal just three minutes into play and FC Kansas City and Portland Thorns FC finished in a 1-1 draw.
“Overall it was a great showing, not just my team, but I want to congratulate both teams,” FC Kansas City coach Vlatko Andonovski said. “Maybe 1-1 was the most realistic result.”
The hosts came out flying and took advantage of an early miscue by Thorns defender Rachel Buehler. Leigh Ann Robinson put a ball near Cuellar that Buehler should have cleared but she misplayed it, allowing the Blues preseason star to continue her goal-scoring tear.
“I turned and the ball bounced in front of me,” Cuellar said. “I saw the goalkeeper (Karina LeBlanc) and I saw that opening near post so I took it with my left foot.”
Cuellar joins Pretinha (WUSA) and Allison Falk (WPS) as debut goal scorers for women’s pro leagues. Post-match the 22-year-old was still basking in the glow of her small place in history. “It’s awesome. It’s nerve-wracking. When I scored I thought I was having a little bit of a heart attack.”
FC Kansas City remained the better side throughout the first half. Kristie Mewis frustrated the Thorns midfield with her superb technical skills and helped create the best two-way soccer moment of the night. The rookie was in among players but still managed to spit the ball out for a brilliant through ball to Casey Loyd. Thorns defender Kathryn Williamson made an energetic recovery run to thwart Loyd’s chances at a goal.
“Kristie Mewis (was) a great part of our game,” Andonovski said. “I think every game she’s going to bring more and more to the table.”
Mewis also wound up with the first yellow card handed out in NWSL.
The Thorns clearly needed to make adjustments at halftime and they came up with a formula that helped clamp down the Blues attack and gradually turned the play in their favor.
“We were very vulnerable off the counter attack,” Cindy Parlow Cone said following her first match as a head coach at any level. “We made some adjustments to their counter attack and to our attacking style as well.”
Cone also stressed that her forwards were not putting enough pressure on Kansas City’s backs. The proof that they did it better after halftime came in the 85th minute when Sinclair sprinted back across midfield to win back a ball and keep things flowing in the Thorns’ direction.
But it was the 64th minute substitution of Danielle Foxhoven that really helped kick start things. Just two minutes after she arrived in the match, Foxhoven was played into the box by Allie Long and won the penalty when she was taken down by Lauren Sesselman.
“I really don’t want to comment on the referee’s decision,” Andonovski said. “If you ask me if I think it was a penalty, no.”
Becky Sauerbrunn, who anchored an otherwise superb effort by the FC Kansas City backline, was also skeptical of the penalty call.
“I think the PK call was questionable,” said Sauerbrunn, who grew up in St Louis and had a slew of friends and family at the game. “I don’t quite think it was a PK.”
Sinclair calmly stepped to the spot and buried the penalty to her right while Barnhart went the other way.
The Thorns only continued to push the issue the rest of the way but neither team had any memorable chances to break the tie. The best came in stoppage time when Cuellar and Buehler hooked up again, this time at the end of a tricky long ball by Lauren Cheney. Buehler won this battle, and the match remained level.
Both teams are 0-0-1 (1 point) and both will be at home next weekend. FC Kansas City will host the Breakers on Friday night and the Thorns will play their much anticipated home opener a day later against Seattle Reign FC.
Portland Thorns FC (0-0-1, 1pts) at FC Kansas City (0-0-1, 1pts)
April 13, 2013 – Shawnee Mission District Stadium (Overland Park, Kan.)
Goals by Half 1 2 F
KC 1 0 1
POR 0 1 1
KC – Cuellar 3rd minute
POR – Sinclair (penalty kick) 67
KC – Mewis (caution) 43
POR – Washington (caution) 70
POR – Williamson (caution) 82
Lineups & Stats
POR: GK Karina LeBlanc; D Marian Dougherty, D Rachel Buehler, D Kathryn Williamson, D Nikki Marshall (Emilee O’Neil, 61); M Becky Edwards, M Allie Long, M Angie Kerr (Danielle Foxhoven, 63); F Nikki Washington (Courtney Wetzel, 90), F Christine Sinclair (capt.), F Alex Morgan
Substitutes Not Used: GK Adelaide Gay, M Meleana Shim
TOTAL SHOTS: 8 (Morgan, 3); SHOTS ON GOAL: 4 (Sinclair, 2); FOULS: 13 (Long, 4); OFFSIDES: 1; CORNER KICKS: 4; SAVES: 2
KC: GK Nicole Barnhart; D Becky Sauerbrunn (capt.), D Leigh Ann Robinson, D Lauren Sesselmann, D, Jen Buczkowski; M Casey Loyd (Courtney Jones, 72), M Merritt Mathias (Katie Kelly, 77), M Desiree Scott, M Kristie Mewis (Erika Tymrak, 81), M Lauren Cheney (capt.); F Renae Cuellar
Substitutes Not Used: GK Bianca Henninger, D Nia Williams, F Melissa Henderson
TOTAL SHOTS: 8 (Two players tied, 2); SHOTS ON GOAL: 3 (Three tied with 1); FOULS: 11 (Two players tied, 2); OFFSIDES: 3; CORNER KICKS: 4; SAVES: 3
Referee: Kari Seitz
Assistant Referees: Kathryn Nesbitt, Kyle Atkins
Fourth Official: Jon Freemon
Weather: 64 degrees, partly cloudy
All statistics contained in this box score are unofficial