PORTLAND, OR — The frozen-in-time moment from the 2014 NWSL Championship began with Lauren Holiday looking at referee Margaret Domka in disgust after a Reign player had climbed up her back to win a ball. A moment later she instantly transformed herself from disgruntled to distinguished.
Looking down to find the ball at her feet, Holiday took matters into her own hands by dribbling around half of the Reign team and producing a perfect pass to Amy Rodriguez. The second goal of the afternoon for Rodriguez made it 2-0, a lead FC Kansas City would never look back on. The brilliant display from Holiday locked her in as MVP of the final. It also became a microcosm for what the Reign must avoid Thursday night if they expect the rematch at Providence Park to end differently than last year.
“A-Rod is very dangerous and having Cheney (Holiday) just (behind) her to spring her is something we always need to be aware of,” Megan Rapinoe said. “Really all over the field. They’re a great good possession team and transitional team. They can break really quickly with their pace on the outside. We just need to make sure that when we have the ball—because we usually have quite a bit of the ball—that we’re always maintaining that shape behind it.”
On the difference from last year’s game to this year’s, Rapinoe said the Reign need to be, “keenly aware of our shape behind the ball.”
Coach Laura Harvey agreed with Rapinoe’s assessment that containing Holiday and Rodriguez will be a key in the match, but she has always maintained the stance that it was not tactics that got the Reign beat as heavy favorites in 2014.
“I’m not sure it’s tactical stuff,” she said. “If you reduce teams to opportunities to score than you have a chance of winning the game. If you look back at last year, at the stats at last year, without knowing the score you probably would have picked that the other team had won the game. I don’t think it’s a tactical thing. I think it’s a concentration (thing.) Taking your own chances, punishing Kansas with having so much possession and turn that possession into more chances for us. It’s not necessarily a tactical change for that.”
To that end the Reign lost despite outshooting Kansas City 14-5. Reign goalkeeper Hope Solo made a single save in the match. FC Kansas City keeper Nicole Barnhart made seven.
Left back Stephanie Cox, who played every minute of the 2015 season, credited FC Kansas City’s box defending in 2015 and maintained the theme about Rodriguez and Holiday.
“Just be aware that they can score so quickly so we really worked on how to defend in transition,” Cox said. “And when we’re attacking, what our defensive shape is behind the ball to really limit their opportunities.”
While Harvey has refused to acknowledge that a tactical change from last year will be needed to win, she is more than tuned into the fact that containing Holiday and Rodriguez is paramount to coming out on top.
“Don’t let them get the ball,” Harvey said bluntly before expanding. “That’s all you can do. They’re phenomenal. Holiday has proven over the last three years in this league, even in the first year without A-Rod, that she is one of the best players to ever grace this country in that position. Their chemistry together creates a lot of chances for A-Rod. Her movement is great and her ability to finish is fantastic.
“The cutthroat answer is don’t let them get the ball. That is honestly the only thing you can do. And when they get it, just make sure they get it as close to their goal as they do to your goal.”