FC Kansas City opens the 2014 NWSL playoffs today at noon against the Portland Thorns, their nemesis from last postseason. Like last season, the Blues finished the regular season in second place and host Portland but are looking for a different result than 2013 when the Thorns upset FC Kansas City in route to winning the first NWSL championship.
Portland and FC Kansas City have met three times this season with the home squad winning each time. The Thorns took the opening match 3-1 in April and FC Kansas City shutout the Thorns in late June 1-0. Portland did route the Blues 7-1 in July in what FC Kansas City's head coach Vlatko Andonovski admitted was his biggest mistake of the season. Andonovski experimented with the lineup, an unbalanced formation and tactics that the Thorns pounced on.
The similarities to last season are haunting. The Blues and Thorns are in the exact same spots as they were last year. Third place Portland at second place Kansas City and the game will be played mid-day in high heat again. In that match FC Kansas City took the lead with two goals in the first twenty-five minutes but Portland clawed one back quickly and another midway through the second half.
One difference is in that match FC Kansas City came into the match a bit tired and out of form, this time they are more rested.
Rest or Not
It is always one of the most debated questions in sports, having time off before a big match and being rested or playing your way in and being in form.
The Blues clinched second on August 6th and have been off since August 9th when they played their last regular season match. The Thorns had to fight to make the playoffs and it came down to their last match when they needed a win at first place Seattle on August 17th. The Reign and Thorn played a tough match with Portland getting the 1-0 win.
Andonovski's squad has had the opportunity to rest and train for the most part with the exception of some of the U.S. national team players that were called up for a friendly midweek.
"We are pumped," FC Kansas City midfielder Erika Tymrak said after practice this week. "We've had some time off since our last game and some practice so we are fresh and ready to play. We're excited."
"When you haven't done something for a while you get excited to do it again," Tymrak continued. "The last game we played was against the Comets guys (the defending indoor league champions) and was not the most enjoyable thing but we are excited to get back on the field again in front of the home crowd."
How did the women do in their scrimmage with the men? "We tied them but they may have taken it easy on us, or vice versa" Tymrak laughed.
U.S. National team duty
The U.S. called up three FC Kansas City players and two Portland stars for their midweek win over Switzerland. The Blues Amy Rodriguez did not play, Becky Sauerbrunn played the first half and Lauren Holiday played 85 before being replace by the Thorns Allie Long. Portland's Alex Morgan went for 66 minutes in that match.
"The disadvantage that we have is the same as for Portland. They were missing Alex Morgan and Allie Long, two key players for them. I wish Tobin Heath was healthy enough she would have been called, just kidding," Andonovski laughed.
Being a playoff game and the need to determine a winner, it could obviously go to penalties at the end. With that in mind the Blues practiced taking penalties a bit this week. It is always interesting watching players and keepers hone their strategies. Some players try to power it in the goal, some go strictly for placement while others can be cheeky trying to chip it down the middle over a diving keeper.
"It's all about the player and what they like," Tymrak explained. "You expect different things from different players but it is interesting to see who likes what, who does what."
How is it to face a veteran keeper like Nicole Barnhart? "Very hard," Tymrak responded. "She reads you like a book. I feel bad for the other team."