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Kansas City, Houston close out NWSL regular season with 1-1 draw

The 2017 NWSL regular season concluded in Kansas City with FCKC drawing the Houston Dash, 1-1. Rookie Maegan Kelly put the home side on the board in the opening minutes of the match, while a second-half strike by Rachel Daly prevented the Dash from losing their first match in Kansas City.

Both squads saw a few lineup changes entering the match, as Houston’s interim coach Omar Morales made a number of changes to give players like Bruna Benites, Caity Heap and Claire Falknor starts in their season finale. The most notable change, though, was Becky Sauerbrunn’s absence from the Kansas City backline. Sauerbrunn, who had missed only one game prior to tonight because of national team duty, was said to have been a late strike from the lineup after suffering a lower body injury during warm-ups. As a result, Yael Averbuch, who wasn’t expected to play tonight because of an illness, started at center back alongside rookie Sydney Miramontez.

Rookie forward Maegan Kelly was also in FCKC’s starting lineup, and she gave the home side an early lead when she scored her fifth professional goal in the 9th minute. Kelly, in just her fifth start for the Blues, got on the end of a well-placed cross sent in from the right flank by Canadian international Desiree Scott. Kelly headed the ball inside the far post from about 15 yards out to put FCKC up less than 10 minutes into the contest.

The home team nearly doubled their lead in the 18th minute when Sydney Leroux intercepted a bad back pass intended for Campbell, who had come far off her line in attempts of getting to it first. Leroux took too heavy of a touch in her attempt to maneuver around Campbell’s dive, slowing the USWNT striker down just enough to give Bruna Benites, starting at center back for the Dash, enough time to get on the near post and block Leroux’s shot with her foot as Campbell scrambled back into position.

Houston had a number of opportunities to level the score in the first half, with Nichelle Prince, Caity Heap, and Rachel Daly all with looks on goal. Daly had a solid opportunity to equalize shortly before the half when Cari Roccaro sent in a textbook cross for the England international, who was in perfect scoring position only to send her header wide of the mark. Just a minute later Prince had the best first-half chance to pull the Dash back level a with a ball that got past FCKC keeper Nicole Barnhart, but Miramontez cleared the slow roller off the goal line. As a result, FC Kansas City entered halftime leading, 1-0.

Just a minute after the Dash were awarded the second of a pair of cautions to start the second half, Houston generated a lovely sequence of possession that ended with Daly finishing off the team goal. Janine Beckie sent in a long ball to Nichelle Prince, who then laid it off for Kristie Mewis. Mewis had a solid look on goal and seemed poised to take the shot, but she caught the Kansas City defense off guard by passing the ball to Daly instead, allowing Daly to score the equalizer. Mewis and Daly connected for another chance on goal minutes later, but that time Barnhart made the stop.

The second half was mostly uneventful after the Dash goal—that is, until the final 10 minutes when both sides cranked up the intensity in search of a game winner. Although the Dash also created opportunities in the final minutes, FC Kansas City seemed the hungrier of the two teams, but a strong performance in net by Campbell prevented the Blues from retaking the lead. Campbell bad two huge saves in the final minutes to prevent the Blues from stealing back the final three points of the season. The first was a leaping diving save to deny Sydney Leroux in the 82nd minute, followed by an even bigger save in stoppage time to prevent a last-second game winner by substitute Brittany Ratcliffe.

The strong efforts by both goalkeepers sent the game to a 1-1 draw at the final whistle, thus concluding both teams’—and the league’s—final season. The Dash have yet to advance to the playoffs in their four years of existence, while two-time NWSL Champions FC Kansas City miss the playoffs for the second consecutive year. The 2017 NWSL Playoffs kick off next weekend with the Portland Thorns hosting the Orlando Pride at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, October 7 in the first of two semifinals. The second will take place at 3:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, October 8 in Cary, North Carolina, where the 2017 Shield-winning Courage will host the Chicago Red Stars. Both matches will be televised on Lifetime. 

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