Jessica Fishlock has been named to NWSL’s Best XI all three seasons she has played. Kim Little has been in the league only two seasons, and she too has been voted one of the 11 best players every time she has been eligible. That dynamic duo combines with Keelin Winters to form a wonderful midfield that makes its living on a high work rate, outstanding soccer IQ, and the ability to counterattack in an instant. It is that midfield where FC Kansas City will look to begin the process of breaking down Seattle Reign FC in next Thursday’s NWSL Championship match.
“There is no question about their midfield with Fishlock and Little and Winters,” Blues coach Vlatko Andonovski said. “The first thing we’re going to have to focus on is matching up the work rate and the mentality of their midfielders. I feel like everything starts from there and then moves up.”
The match features the same two teams from last season when FC Kansas City went to Seattle as huge underdogs and surprised the Reign on two goals by Amy Rodriguez. Lauren Holiday assisted on both goals, and Thursday will be the final match of Holiday’s club career. The 2013 NWSL Most Valuable Player will retire from soccer altogether following the national team’s victory tour.
“I think I’ve cried over this way too much,” Rodriguez said of Holiday’s impending retirement. “It really does sadden me to think that I’m not going to play with one of my best friends anymore. I’m very excited for her after an awesome career. But I’m sad to be losing one of my most favorite players to play with. I can’t tell you how many times she makes a player like myself look good on the field because of all the work she does.”
Mark down Holiday as one of the players responsible for matching what the Reign will try to do in midfield. We already know that Holiday can play the attacking midfield role to near perfection as she did in her 2013 MVP season. And we know Holiday can sit back and disrupt opposing attackers as she did in the second half of the World Cup. And when she is really going well, Holiday can do a little bit of both.
“Lauren Holiday has been a huge part of our organization and our team,” Andonovski said. “That’s on and off the field. She has always been there for her teammates.”
After FC Kansas City clinched their third straight playoff berth—ultimately becoming the only NWSL team to do so—Holiday said that as long as they were in, they may as win another title. “My mentality is if we make playoffs we better win it all. If we stay an extra month we better win it all.”
Andonovski, the architect of the club and its attractive style, says no one is talking about Holiday’s impending departure—yet.
“She will be missed, absolutely,” he said. “I know it won’t be easy to replace her. But as a team now I don’t think anyone wants to bring that up during practices or in the last couple of weeks. We have been trying not to think about it until the last game. But I’m sure once the last game is over my emotions are going to come out.”
Rodriguez, who like Holiday and Blues teammates Becky Sauerbrunn and Heather O’Reilly are in line to win the World Cup and NWSL title in the same year, said there is a lot riding on the outcome.
“I don’t think I’ll feel as happy with the year if we can’t win the championship with FC Kansas City,” she said. “I’m going to do my best to make sure that Kansas City brings home a second championship.” (Hope Solo and Megan Rapinoe from the Reign are also looking for the World Cup/NWSL double.)
First things first though — trying to neutralize that dynamic midfield.
“Seattle is a great team,” Andonovski said. “They won the league for a reason. They are a great team. It is not going to be easy to compete against them.”
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