Neither team was exactly raining shots on the other, in a 0-0 draw between Kansas City and Portland Saturday at Swope Soccer Village. The Thorns’ attack had issues, totaling only two shots on goal off nine total attempts.
At least part of the reason for that was Kansas City’s back line stacking up clearance after clearance, even at point-blank range.
“I think they were incredible,” head coach VlatkoAndonovski said of his back line. “I think they were spot-on in every situation. As a team I thought we defended well, and then as a defensive line, they were spot-on, organized, disciplined and smart when we were coming out of the back. … Let’s be realistic, we’re playing probably one of the best if not the best teams in the league, and they had two or three legit shots at goal. I’ll take that any time.”
Becky Sauerbrunn had several leaping clearances, often coming out of nowhere to ward off the attack (as she does). Yael Averbuch saved one in the last five minutes, capping a solid day from her. Christina Gibbons continues to impress in her rookie season, putting herself in the right spots and capitalizing off her positioning.
As it so often has been for VlatkoAndonovski’s teams, the defense earned the team a point Saturday.
“I think what’s made our back line pretty effective is that if one person makes a mistake, the other three know they can’t make a mistake,” Sauerbrunn said. “It’s nice to have that. You can go for the ball and try to interrupt the play, and know that even if you’re a step or two late, or a step or two early, that you’ve got three people behind you that are covering you. I think for a back line, to have that trust is really important.”
Despite the lack of real scoring opportunities on one end of the field, Kansas City can still keep up defensively. At 1-2-2 now, FCKC isn’t exactly blowing its opponents out of the water, but it’s not losing matches either, because of its defense.
But about that offense…
While it’s hard to parse distinct patterns out of such few matches, it does seem clear that FCKC’s offensive struggles are here to stay, at least for now. To start the match, FCKC couldn’t unclog Portland’s midfield, and the Thorns were swarming every chance the Blues even started to create.
It was a stuffy midfield in the first half, with neither team breaking through and seeing light very often. The teams combined for one (yes, one) shot on goal in the first half, an Allie Long attempt in the 28th minute.
Kansas City finished the match with 12 shots, only two on goal. Its only real flurry was midway through the second half, with headers from Shea Groom and Sydney Leroux not connecting, and a Becca Moros shot rolling inches wide. Still, FCKC couldn’t make much happen.
But it was a cheerful Andonovski after the match, and his concern over the offense is minimal at this point – especially with Leroux not back to full form. This was the second match in a row Leroux has played all 90 minutes, and she was still sprinting towards chances in the closing moments. But Andonovski insisted that Leroux wasn’t back to 100 percent yet, after returning from her pregnancy last season.
“You’re going to see the best in her in the games to come,” he said. “She’s moving in the right direction, very involved in the game, gets around the ball. As long as when I watch the game, as long as I hear her name constantly, I’m happy for now, because the best of her will come.”
Shea Groom is a trooper
Groom has been grappling in recent weeks with a broken rib, and it’s clear that it got banged up again on Saturday. In the waning moments of the first half, she went down hard and eventually came off the field bent over double, grasping at her side. She took a couple sips of water on the sideline, quickly swallowed what appeared to be an Aspirin, and went right back into the game. It was clear Andonovski was asking her if she was sure she wanted to continue to play, and Groom just kept nodding her head and moving towards the pitch. She finished out the match.
Even after that scare, Groom was running around pell-mell, sliding for balls and even taking an elbow to a defender once to try to clear space for a shot. Injured or not, Groom seemingly only knows how to play at one speed, and it’s what has made her into such a dangerous player.
“It seems like she plays better when she’s a little banged up,” Andonovski said. “They make her a little mad, and then she gets involved more.”
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