It all came tumbling down on FC Kansas City right after they went ahead 2-0 on Portland Thorns FC on Saturday. It was the 18th time in 23 matches the Blues had been in front. The previous 17 times, they had managed only 11 wins from those 17 leads, with two losses and three draws. Thrice the Blues imploded in spectacular fashion, including the season finale when they conceded in the 92nd minute to lose to the Red Stars when a draw would have secured 1st place in the league.
Vlatko Andonovski, the coach who built FC Kansas City into the most aesthetically pleasing women’s soccer team around, pointed to the team’s 11 shutouts and insisted his team was ready to “do it for 11 minutes when it comes down to it.”
Unfortunately for the Blues their demons caught up with them Saturday. The 2-0 lead on Portland was 2-1 by halftime, 2-2 by the 65th minute, and 3-2 by the end of the first period of extra time. It ended 3-2, a cruel ending to what had been a marvelous season for the franchise that literally did not exist last Halloween.
“It’s pretty obvious,” Andonovski said by phone soon after the final whistle, “that the problem we had throughout the season just hunted us down in the playoffs.”
Erika Tymrak and Melissa Henderson scored early goals for FC Kansas City and they appeared to be on their way. Then a stunning error by Becky Sauerbrunn led to the Thorns’ first goal of the afternoon.
“I think the only letdown would be I made a mistake in the back and they capitalized and got a goal,” Sauerbrunn said. “So I think maybe that shifted the momentum in Portland’s favor. I don’t think we let down. I made a mistake and I think that shifted the game a little bit.”
Describing the play—an errant pass out of the back that went to Angie Kerr—the FC Kansas City captain was straightforward.
“I tried to play it in front of (Jen Buczkowski) and I think she was expecting it more to her feet. It was a bad ball on my part. I knew that Angie Kerr was there. I just was playing the ball into space and it was just a miscommunication.”
Heath’s 33rd minute goal put a halt to the best patch of play by FC Kansas City during 120 minutes of soccer. Even at the point they took the two-goal lead the Blues had not played anything close to their best soccer.
“I would say that is fair,” Sauerbrunn said when posed with the idea. “I think when Erika scored her goal it was maybe a little bit against the run of play because I thought Portland started off the game very well.”
“Up to the second goal we were doing it,” Andonovski said of the tika-taka style that has gone missing the last few weekends and was almost nonexistent in the playoff loss. “And then after the second goal it was almost like: hey we did it, it’s over and done, we’re up two goals. Obviously it wasn’t enough.”
Andonovski could be named NWSL Coach of the Year on Monday and Lauren Holiday is expected to be named MVP the following day. FC Kansas City won’t sweep the Best XI, but they’ll have several representatives. If Andonovski wins coaching honors it will be a clean sweep of the league’s individual honors even as the Blues’ season was stopped short of an appearance in the championship match.
“One thing I have to say about the players,” Andonovski said, “they were troopers. I came out really proud of them. They are respectful professionals and hard workers. One thing that they did was they implemented something new in women’s soccer in this country. I think they actually got their name on the board.
“One of the things I tried to emphasize through the season was that we were going to play attractive soccer. They just had to work hard and focus and believe in that. Obviously the girls showed that they can do it.”
Sauerbrunn, who owns an Olympic gold medal and will suit up for the U.S. national team again next week, was impressed by the FC Kansas City experience. “It’s something special and it’s wonderful to be a part of. The organization did a great job of finding players that are capable of playing that way. And a lot of credit goes to the girls for buying into that system and really working on it. I think during the season you saw moments that there was a lot of brilliant play. It’s just that you need to be able to carry that for 24 games.”
“Can we do it better?” Anndovoski asked himself. “Absolutely. It’s a great beginning. It’s a great building block. Sometimes we got punished by it but that does not take us away from what we try to do. We came out one step short this year but next year we’ll just be moving on from where we (wound up) and hopefully we’re going to take that extra step.”
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