FC Kansas City fell to the Western New York Flash on Friday night in their NWSL season opener. The goal came from Samantha Mewis (younger sister of Kristie) in the 71st minute off a penalty kick caused by a handball from Becky Sauerbunn. The Blues debuted a new starting lineup, while the Flash proved their change in coaching staff was a worthwhile switch.
Mewis's penalty kick was not the only one of the night. Heather O'Reilly also stepped up to the spot in extra time of the second half, only to hit the ball off the left hand post.
With the departures of Leigh Ann Brown (nee Robinson), Becca Moros, and Amy LePeilbet during the offseason, FC Kansas City had to make some significant defensive switches. They shifted to a 3-5-2 formation, with veterans Becky Sauerbrunn and Yael Averbuch and newcomer Brittany Taylor anchoring the defense. Shea Groom and Erika Tymrak collaborated up top, and Heather O'Reilly, Desiree Scott, Jen Buczkowski, Mandy Laddish, and Francis Silva rounded out the middle. Nicole Barnhart returned to her goalkeeper spot.
It was clearly the first match for both teams, as each struggled to acclimate to their new additions. It took awhile for either team to get comfortable, and then it felt as if both teams were evenly matched - a significant worry for FC Kansas City, who won the league last year, while Western New York finished in 7th place.
New addition Brittany Taylor and the returning Desiree Scott played well for the Blues. While Taylor's runs forward supplemented the Blues offense, she had a little trouble getting back to fit into the defense - an important part when operating in a 3-5-2.
However, Barnhart definitely had the best game of any player on the Blues team. Despite the loss, she had at least five saves from point-blank shots.
Moving forward, the Blues have to replace the void caused by the retirement of Lauren Holiday and the temporary absence of Amy Rodriguez and Sydney Leroux. Their defensive struggles can likely be solved over time, just by getting the players more comfortable with each other. But Shea Groom and Erika Tymrak just don't share the attacking spark and natural chemistry of Holiday and Rodriguez.
The Blues next play on April 23 against the Portland Thorns at the Swope Soccer Village. That game kicks off at 7:30pm CT.