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FCKC jump into playoff race, send Red Stars to 3rd straight home loss

FC Kansas City injected themselves into the playoff race with a third straight win, 3-1 away to the Chicago Red Stars, whose once firm grip on a playoff spot continued to loosen with a third straight loss home loss across a nine-day span. The Blues did most of their damage against the run of play but were the better side in the attacking third. Sydney Leroux, Katie Bowen, and Meagan Kelly accounted for the goals and Nicole Barnhart turned aside Christen Press’s penalty in first half stoppage time to hold a 2-0 lead at the time. Julie Ertz scored for the Red Stars.

Both teams started with unexpected lineup changes. Yael Averbuch was under the weather and did not dress, throwing Sydney Miramontez her second career start in central defense. The Red Stars had to scramble when Vanessa DiBernardo took a knock to her head during warm-ups. She was held out as a precaution and replaced in the XI by Taylor Comeau.

The Red Stars opened the match on the front foot and spent much of the opening 15 minutes sitting on the Kansas City backline. During that time, Red Stars fans got a solid look at the skills of Yuki Nagasato, who set up Comeau (wide) and Press (poorly hit shot, easy save) in the 11th and 14th minutes respectively.

In the 23rd minute, against the run of play, FCKC struck and turned the script on the rest of the match. Shea Groom took a throw-in and beat three Red Stars defenders to set a course for the penalty box. She cleverly worked her way into what space was available and delivered a perfectly-weighted ball to Leroux who scored to make it 1-0.

Six minutes later, it was 2-0. Miramontez played a long ball that looked like it missed all of her teammates and would be turned over to the Red Stars. But Groom dug in where Sam Johnson didn’t, won the ball and drove into the box. Katie Naughton did well to cut down the passing lane to Leroux but Groom stayed patient and played the ball higher for Bowen who swooped in

Leroux had a golden opportunity to make it 3-0 in the 39th minute but Alyssa Naeher made a point-blank save to make it 2-0. And as the clock struck 45:00, Groom fouled Casey Short at the top of the penalty box to give the hosts a chance to halve the lead before the break. Press, who missed the frame altogether against Kansas City in April, had this penalty stopped by Nicole Barnhart.

Despite the rough ending to the first half the Red Stars began the second the way they did the first. They piled on FCKC who absorbed pressure in an effort to hang on. In the 64th minute they finally got on the board when Nagasato played Ertz through and she blasted one by Barnhart. The play was notable because Ertz started the ball upfield and had one other key touch on the way before making the run to finish it.

Hope of a comeback were dashed in the 80th minute. With the Red Stars making offensive substitutions and committing numbers forward, the Blues struck on the counter using two substitutes. Lo’eau LaBonta delivered the long ball and Meagan Kelly slipped between two of the three remaining defenders, then chipped Naeher to make it 3-1.

FC Kansas City (6-8-5, 23 pts) suddenly moved within 6 points of a playoff spot and will next host the team holding the 4th position, Orlando Pride. That match is Saturday afternoon at Swope Soccer Village. The Red Stars (8-6-5, 29 pts) remain ahead of the Pride by virtue of their head-to-head tiebreaker and have two teams within three points of them. They are in Washington on Saturday night.

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