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The Lowdown: FCKC facing unprecedented struggle

Lauren Holiday and FC Kansas City have been just a touch off in the early part of 2014.

The question was about whether the FC Kansas City coaching staff had treated the start of this season the same as they did the start of last. The answer came back with no trace of hesitation.

“Yes, absolutely,” Lauren Holiday said.

The difference of course, is that after drawing the opening game in 2013, the Blues won their next two and were on course to season-long contention. This season, after drawing the opener, the club has lost its next two. FC Kansas City woke up Monday morning in an unfamiliar position—bottom of the NWSL table.

“I just don’t think things are going our way right now,” Holiday, the golden boot winner and league MVP last season, said. “I think we played an okay game against Portland.”

An okay game until the final 10 minutes when Jessica McDonald hit for two quick goals to give the Thorns a 3-1 victory. The result may look worse than the game did, but in the end it was another empty day for FC Kansas City in terms of points.

“At that point we were throwing numbers,” Holiday said. “It’s little things. Small mistakes. I don’t think it’s that we gave up or were fatigued. It’s small details that we have to do better at.”

So what exactly has been different about the encore to last year’s symphony?

For starters the coaching staff has been tinkering with the formation following the departure of Desiree Scott to Notts County. Scott and Jen Buczkowski teamed up last season to dominate midfields by sitting on top of the back line and spraying balls to Holiday and Erika Tymrak. When the Blues lined up opening night against Sky Blue, Buczkowski was the lone holding midfielder in a 4-4-2 setup.

The results were not bad, but the team did not look like its 2013 version. Buczkowski, long a capable defensive midfielder, was forced to stay home more to cover the extra ground. Holiday and Buczkowki appeared to struggle finding space to operate.

“I would agree that we didn’t figure out the spacing in 4-4-2 and we’ll have to continue to work on that,” Holiday said.

Andonovski gave them a reprieve from the 4-4-2 in Portland. Rookie Jenna Richmond won her first professional start in Scott’s old place, and Liz Bogus came out. That left Amy Rodriguez as the lone striker. The 4-2-3-1 was back. The team instantly looked more comfortable and had the 2nd half gone to the judge’s scorecards at the 80th minute, likely would have won it.

“I think it was more comfortable just because the attacking players on our team are so attacking minded that it helps to have Jenna and Bud cleaning up the mess back there and giving Erika and (me) more of a free roll. I think we’re going to have to learn to play both.”

So why couldn’t they win? An uncharacteristically poor game by Becky Sauerbrunn did not help. And an excellent game by Thorns goalkeeper Nadine Angerer did not either. Holiday prefers to look inward towards finishing and towards herself.

“I take some of the responsibility,” she said. “I was scoring a lot more goals last year and I haven’t been able to score (as much.)

“I think if we score goals those games that we played are different. I had opportunities in the box in all three games that I didn’t finish. It’s a matter of who finishes the ball. I absolutely think the way that we played against Portland, if we play that way the next few games and we score goals, I think that we can come away with wins.”

In the whacky world of NWSL where 24 games are jammed into 19 weeks, the Blues are at the start of an absurdly busy stretch. Starting with the Portland match, FC Kansas City will play weekend-midweek straight through May 25. That means little time to train and a demand to fix some of the issues through game play.

“For everybody’s bodies I would prefer more time,” Holiday, who could be with the national team during the stretch as well, said. “But everybody this season they will have to grind through at some point. This is our grind time right now. We don’t really think about the other option. We just let go of Portland and focus on Chicago (Wednesday night in Kansas City.)”

Dating to last season and including playoffs, FC Kansas City have now played six straight matches without a win. Last time they came out on top was in Portland in what looked to be a decisive victory. Three straight losses later and the Blues ended 2013 with a team trophy. Holiday says this year’s struggles have nothing to do with last year—“I think we’re a totally different team”—and reminds that this season is only three games old.

“I think we’ll get ourselves out of this rut and it’s early in the season. Hopefully we’ll peak at the right time. We all hate losing. We also understand that we have to stick to our style of play. We have to figure it out. I think that we’re a good enough team to figure it out and we’re only three games into the season.”

Week 3 Takeaways

Here are a few soccer-related takeaways from Week 3:

— Lianne Sanderson was marvelous for the Breakers on Sunday. She helped created the first goal by deftly winning a corner kick from Lindsi Cutshall. After the corner was cleared she found Julie King who was able to redirect it in. Sanderson scored the other two. One was a one-touch finish after beating Cutshall on a ball over the top. The second was a well-placed shot from distance the end of a frantic sequence. For her efforts Sanderson was my Week 3 Player of the Week vote.

— Having watched the Tori Huster goal over and over again, it is clear the referee missed a foul on Renae Cuellar just before the goal. Cuellar body checked a Red Star in the box and the play should have gone the other way. There is a microscope on NWSL officials every week. This is a good reason why. That said, a missed call is not license for the Red Stars to leave Huster unmarked. The other point of interest about this game was the wind and cold. The latter just made things uncomfortable but the wind helped make this the ugliest match in the league this season.

— Mana Shim and Taylor Lytle are owners of two of the sweetest assists we’re likely to see this season. Lytle’s got a nice bounce on a wet pitch and both players needed top-shelf finishes (Shim from Jessica McDonald; Lytle from Monica Ocampo), but both were beautiful to watch. What else do Shim and Lytle have in common? They are regular contributors after being passed up out of college in 2013.

Attendance Watch

Seattle Reign FC (Wednesday): 1,754
Chicago Red Stars: 1,822
Portland Thorns FC: 14,124
Boston Breakers: 1,263
Seattle Reign FC: 2,290

Total: 21,253 (YTD, 61,105)
Average: 4,251 (YTD, 4,700)

Free Kicks

-The NWSL Disciplinary Committee lowered the boom on Carli Lloyd for her take down and punch on Vanessa DiBernardo. The Flash midfielder will miss the next two games for which she is available. So a national team call-up next week will stop the clock on the suspension. The decision comes more than a week after the incident but the Flash were idle last weekend. Lloyd released a statement apologizing to DiBernardo and her teammates.

— CoCo Goodson and Jen Buczkowski both played 90 more minutes on the weekend to extend their ironwomen to 25 matches and 2,250 minutes each. They are the only two players never to miss a minute in NWSL. Buczkowski will be put to the test with FC Kansas City facing nine matches in 30 days.

— Courtney Niemiec has a smooth and effective cross from the right wing, something that must have eluded NWSL coaches while she played at LaSalle. Niemiec went undrafted in January.

— Sky Blue coach Jim Gabarra tells The Lowdown it was a coach’s decision to sit Kendall Johnson, the first time in her Sky Blue career she has not started. It was partly brought on by the five game in 15 day stretch that began with Sunday’s loss in Houston.

— After two days of uncertainty, Kaylyn Kyle has been traded from the Breakers to the Houston Dash. In exchange the Breakers receive Nikki Washington. Kyle is an obvious replacement in central midfield for Brittany Bock, who went down for the season with a torn ACL. Less obvious will be Washington’s roll in Boston. She was playing outside back in Houston but is more known as an attacking player. It seems that Kyle punched her ticket out of Boston with some demands of the coaching staff and was not in attendance for the team’s home win over Sky Blue on Sunday.

— The Spirit listed Christine Nairn as probably for the Spirit on Saturday but never left the bench. Three nights earlier she had to be helped off the pitch when her left leg jammed up on her near the end of the Spirit’s loss to the Reign. The league’s official injury report listed Nairn with a left quad strain.

— The Spirit announced shortly after last week’s Lowdown was published that Tiffany Weimer has a torn ACL and will miss the season. In other ACL news, Brittany Bock underwent surgery last week after tearing her ACL in the Dash season opener.

-It is nice to see Karina LeBlanc taking her own goal kicks in Chicago. That was not always the case in Portland last season or in WPS.

— A few statistical notes: the Spirit goal against the Flash on opening day is now an own goal on Amy Barczuk; Crystal Dunn was given an assist on Diana Matheson’s first goal against FC Kansas City a week later. That gives Dunn a two-assist game, the first in Spirit history; the original total of 11 saves for Alyssa Naeher against the Reign on April 13 has been amended to 7. That would have been a league record.

— This year’s draft class was long lauded as a good one and early returns—repeat, it’s early—indicate it was for good reason. Another undrafted player, Bianca Sierra, got her first start for the Spirit on Saturday. Check out her recovery run to snuff out a Jen Hoy chance in the 1st half.

— Abby Wambach has been medically cleared and will make her 2014 NWSL debut Saturday when the Flash open Sahlen’s Stadium against the Thorns.

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