Kansas City is headed to the NWSL Championship! The KC Current continue to pull upsets with their second road win of the playoffs knocking off the NWSL Shield winning OL Reign in Seattle on Sunday. They’ll head to the nation’s capital to face the number two seeded Portland Timbers this Saturday with a shot at a third championship for Kansas City in the NWSL.
The Team is the Star
If you look at the rosters of these teams, it seems somewhat out of balance.
The starting lineup for the OL Reign and it looks like an all-star team. They have USWNT players Megan Rapinoe, Sofia Huerta, Alana Cook and maybe the best player in the world in Rose Lavelle (not to mentioned injured star Tobin Heath who was unavailable). They also have Canadian National team striker Jordyn Huitema. That leaves out goalkeeper of the year finalist Phallon Tullis-Joyce and possible league MVP Jess Fishlock.
Kansas City does have stars, but many of them are hurt. Hailie Mace recently made a few USWNT appearances and AD Franch is a long-time USWNT backup keeper. The team captain, Desiree Scott, is an Olympic Gold Medalist with Canada, but most of the team isn’t even getting national team attention.
But it didn’t matter because they played fantastically as a team.
Alex Loera (how is she not at least a rookie of the year finalist?!) played out of her mind and seems like a future United States National Team player. Kristen Hamilton worked her butt off as usual and was rewarded with a goal, but even when she doesn’t score she does so much to lift the rest of the team up.
Overall though, they just played so well as a team. And defended so well as a team. I’ve never seen a team so comfortable without the ball at their feet. One more to go.
Franch Woman of the Match?
AD Franch had seven massive saves on the night, some of them very tricky, to tie the shutout record in the NWSL playoffs and set the saves record.
She also avoided the distribution mistakes that put her in a bind a few times against the Houston Dash. She’s definitely the league’s best shot stopper and should be goalkeeper of the year. However, in her post-game press conference she said her favorite save belonged to Alex Loera.
Loera Woman of the Match?
The save in question, is Alex Loera’s 74th minute clearance off the line. The angle is tough on the replay and you can see green, but that doesn’t mean it’s fully over the line. Either way, VAR doesn’t come into the NWSL until 2023, so it counts as a great save.
But that’s not all that Loera did. She was asked to play in yet another position this week with the unfortunate ACL tear to Claire Lavogez. While she was listed as a defensive midfielder next to Scott, she definitely was the more free roaming of the two. That was evident on her goal, where she’s deep in the box on a non-set piece play and a little later when she misses a banger in the 25th.
Whatever position she plays in, Loera has to be on the field. Crazy to think she’s just a rookie and how much better she is going to get. I’m fine with calling her and Franch co-women of the match.
Cece Kizer Injury Update
In the first half, a familiar story for Kansas City emerged as yet another one of their players went down injured. This time it was forward Cece Kizer. She suffered a head injury when a defender inadvertently headed her in the back of the head when going for the ball (no foul was called either).
It was confirmed on the broadcast and by head coach Matt Potter after the game that a concussion sub was used so Kansas City had five more moves they could make (they made three eventually). The good news is Potter didn’t seem worried after the game saying, “Cece’s walking around celebrating with people so I think she’s going to be okay.”
Let’s hope so, as this team is very thin on attacking talent with previous injuries to Sam Mewis, Lynn Williams, Claire Lavogez and Jaycie Johnson. If Kizer can’t go (and you never know with head injuries), that leaves only Hamilton and Elyse Bennett as healthy forwards (though I could see Mace playing forward if it was needed). Get well Cece!
That Second Goal
First, it’s hard to believe the Reign have two candidates for defender of the year with this goal. Second, it’s such a good team effort (with some shaky Reign defending in there). The initial ball from Franch is a typical goal kick but Bennett does well to get a flick on it. Initially I thought LaBonta made the pass to Hamilton but in fact it was a failed clearance/pass from Seattle (just like Quinn failed their clearance on the opening goal).
LaBonta still does her part though as she continues her run and pulls defenders with her and that opens up the space for Hamilton to cut back and find her shot. KC executed well and took advantage of the mistakes of the OL Reign.
An interesting aside came in the post-game presser where Hamilton said she was actually on the sideline talking to Coach Potter when Franch took a “quick” goal kick. So she’s running into the play late because of that, but it worked out pretty well.
Failed Tactical Adjustments?
In the 64th minute, after KC was now up 2-0, the coaching staff made a tactical adjustment. They subbed off center back Addisyn Merrick for LB Izzy Rodriguez. At first, I thought they were staying in the same formation and just flipping Kirsten Edmonds to RCB. It made sense to provide fresh legs in defense in my mind, but then Edmonds stayed put.
The broadcast confirmed the team went to a back four. It appeared Rodriguez slotted in at her usual LB spot and Kate Del Fava fell back to RB instead of her usual RWB or wide right midfield role. However, KC play with a “back three” but it really is a back five when they are defending. So in essence, they had four defenders when they usually have five.
Rodriguez played like a typical left back and got into the attack. I’m not sure if she was told to do that or not, and I don’t fault her, I think it was bad tactics asking her to do something she hasn’t had to do all year, and to do so in an elimination game. Her average position was actually in the Seattle half of the field. Even further up than Mace, who I often think is more urgent to get into the attack than defend.
Thankfully, nothing bad happened and KC didn’t give up a goal. They fixed this when they subbed on Taylor Leach and returned to their back three/five. I really like Rodriguez, but asking this team to play in a back four and it being a new defensive shape, was a mistake.
The NWSL playoffs have been killing it with four record setting games in terms of attendance all happening in the last week plus. It started with the crowd showing up for the Houston Dash’s loss to the Kansas City Current, which was the record for a half-second. That record was immediately shattered by the current record hold when the San Diego Wave defeated the Chicago Red Stars.
This weekend added to the lore with the Portland/San Diego game (2nd) and KC’s win over the OL Reign (3rd). This is great for women’s soccer!
- The Seattle Reign/OL Reign have won three NWSL Shields and each time they have been eliminated from the playoffs by a Kansas City team (FC Kansas City or the KC Current). Sort of wild!
- Elyse Bennett has filled in well coming on as an early injury sub in back-to-back games. She’s still a rookie, so I expect her to just keep getting better.
- I was glad to see Potter and company go back to the bench to close out the game with fresh legs. If it’s a one goal lead, I doubt that happens, but they acquitted themselves well.
- And a few fun tweets that I thought I’d share:
If you missed it, here are the extended highlights.
The Kansas City Current are back in action on Saturday in the NWSL Championship at a neutral site in Washington D.C. at 7:00 PM CST. They’ll face the number two seeded Portland Thorns. Anyone making the trip??
More on the game as the week goes on.