By JASON MITCHELL
TUKWILA, Wash. — Conventional wisdom said the Seattle Reign would win Sunday’s NWSL championship match against FC Kansas City.
The Reign, after all, finished the season with the best record in the league, only lost twice all year, and featured both the coach of the year and the league MVP. They also outscored opponents 30-11 at home.
Somebody forgot to tell Amy Rodriguez. And Lauren Holiday.
Despite absorbing seemingly unending waves of Seattle attack, Kansas City capitalized on two of its only real chances of the day, riding a pair of Rodriguez goals – both assisted by Holiday – to a 2-1 win in front of a near sellout crowd of 4,252 at Starfire Stadium.
“We were playing the best team in the league, hands down,” said Kansas City head coach Vlatko Andonovski. “(It’s an) unbelievable roster, great team, great organization. They were very well organized. We knew it was going to be a battle all the way through. We came ready to battle, and I’m just glad the girls battled all the way through for 90 minutes.”
Rodriguez opened the scoring in the 22nd minute, striding onto a lovely through ball from Holiday and easily beating Hope Solo from 12 yards out.
“I felt like today’s game wasn’t necessarily our best,” said Rodriguez. “Luckily I was able to get two chances and finish them. I can’t thank my midfielders, and especially Lauren Holiday, enough. She has made me look so good this season and set up so many amazing passes.”
More than 30 minutes of Seattle pressure ensued, but Rodriguez once again capitalized on a rare Kansas City opportunity. In the 55th minute, Holiday danced and spun through the penalty area in search of a shot before finding Rodriguez unmarked near the penalty spot for the 2-0 lead. It was the first time Seattle trailed by two goals all season.
“I was actually trying to score myself,” said Holiday, “but they obviously closed me down. I just tried to get free and once I got free I saw A-Rod up at the of the penalty spot and found her. She had a great finish.”
Holiday and Rodriguez both also scored in FC Kansas City’s 2-0 win over the Portland Thorns to advance to the final.
“I thought we gave up two sloppy goals,” said Reign head coach Laura Harvey, “goals that we don’t normally concede. And I thought they defended really well against us. I thought they made it really difficult.”
Megan Rapinoe finally broke through for Seattle in the 87th minute, and the Reign nearly equalized twice in a wild few minutes of stoppage time. Jess Fishlock found space in the box moments after the end of regulation, but sent a 12-yard shot well wide of the left post. With stoppage time winding down, Rapinoe found herself alone in the penalty area, but scuffed a volley wide of the right post.
“If the game had being going on for five minutes more than maybe we would have gotten the equalizer,” said Harvey.
Seattle flew out of the gates, flooding Kansas City’s half of the field with a barrage of crosses, one-two combinations, and lobbed through balls, but rarely forcing goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart into difficult saves.
Kim Little nearly equalized just moments after Kansas City’s first goal, whipping in a volley from point-blank range, but Barnhart delivered a stellar kick save.
“It’s just pure disappointment right now, I think,” said Little. “We did all we could to win the game, but I think on the day they took their chances. And although we had more (chances) and maybe dominated the game, we didn’t take ours.”
In the 29th minute Sydney Leroux headed a Little cross inches wide of the far post as the Reign finished the first half in an intense flurry that failed to seriously challenge Barnhart.
Here are the match highlights:
Surprised to see FC Kansas City lifting the trophy? Think it was a successful season for the Reign despite losing the final?
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