PORTLAND, OR — At the midway point of FC Kansas City’s title defense the club was 3-5-2. There had been some signs of the soccer that helped them win the 2104 NWSL Championship, but the team was also constantly in flux. After overcoming a slow start, the World Cup players left and more struggles ensued. More surprisingly, the return of the World Cup players brought more struggles.
“It was tough,” Becky Sauerbrunn admitted. “Everyone was at different places. Some people had played more minutes at the World Cup and some people had played less. Some were tired, some were in-form but tired. Some hadn’t played a lot so some of their form dipped. We were all kind of at different parts meeting up again. It just took us a few games to kind of gel again and find that flow.”
The flow finally returned, beginning with a come-from-behind draw in Chicago on August 1 and then through the rest of the season and semifinal conceding only two more goals—both in the same game.
“One thing I kept reminding myself first and foremost before I even talked to the players was that last year when we won, on April 27 we were last place in the standings,” Andonovski said about the early-season struggles. “I kept reminding myself that we can do it. In one of the meetings that we had I told the players understood that it was my fault. I didn’t want them to point fingers at each other I wanted them to focus on the game. I believed in their qualities and what they can do.”
The players would have none of it. “Vlatko would come in and try to take blame for it,” said Leigh Ann Robinson, who will go by her new married name Leigh Ann Brown effective immediately. “But at the end of the day we know it was us. We knew it was the product on the field. There were a couple of us that got into a couple of people and tried to bring out the best in everybody.”
Now that things are on course it is time again to try and unlock the riddle that is Seattle Reign FC. Much of the talk is about the Reign stopping Lauren Holiday and Amy Rodriguez, but the real test looks to be keeping FC Kansas City from playing a wide game by involving Heather O’Reilly and Erika Tymrak.
“Hugely,” Holiday said when asked about the importance of getting O’Reilly and Tymrak involved in the attack. “Getting it out wide and actually opening up space, Heather and Erika are both dangerous is such different ways. Hao going one-v.-one and Erika can attract a lot of people. Getting them involved will be huge for us.”
Andonovski believes that with two such evenly-matched teams, the difference could well come down to a moment of individual brilliance.
“Both teams are very good, very good, very organized,” Andonovski said. “I think it will come down to individual brilliance, or a restart, or a small little mistake. I think with all four of them—Amy, Lauren, Erika, and Heather—all four of them can change a game with one move. That is one of the things that will make a difference in the final.”