FC Kansas City, 2014 NWSL Champions.
FC Kansas City, 2014 NWSL Champions.

FC Kansas City Wins 2014 NWSL Championship

The right final.

That’s how Seattle Reign FC midfielder Jessica Fishlock described the 2014 National Women’s Soccer League Championship match between the Reign and FC Kansas City during a media conference call a few days before the final.

She was right, as the league’s two most consistent teams throughout the 2014 season met in front of a raucous crowd of 4,252 at Starfire Stadium in Tukwila, Wash., to determine which team would wear the league crown. Themes emerged around the matchup — composure of both squads, contrasting playing styles — but none more prominent than redemption. In 2013, Seattle finished second-to-last in the table while Kansas City let a 2-0 lead slip away in a semifinal loss to the eventual 2013 champion, Portland Thorns FC. The Reign’s aggressiveness in offseason roster building was a foreshadowing of its six-front attack and produced the league’s best regular season record. FC Kansas City’s offseason was much more low-key but proved just as crucial as evidenced by the 2014 NWSL Championship trophy now in its trophy case.

Flipping the Switch

The Seattle Reign dominated the fist minutes of the game, pressing high and interchanging in the midfield to create space and open up passing lanes. Seattle crosses in from the flanks, reliably turned into opportunities during the regular season, went unconverted.

The Goals

FC Kansas City Goal #1

FC Kansas City’s Amy Rodriguez scores in the
22nd minute off a Lauren Holiday pass.

FC Kansas City Goal #2

FC Kansas City’s Amy Rodriguez scores in the
56th minute off a Lauren Holiday pass.

Seattle Reign FC Goal

Seattle Reign’s Megan Rapinoe scores
in the 86th minute.

FC Kansas City weathered the opening Reign storm and, after roughly 20 minutes, settled into possession.

The turning point for Kansas City started to come in the 15th minute when Amy Rodriguez deftly touched the ball around Lauren Barnes and headed straight to goal. Nothing came of the the foray into the Seattle half but it broke the Reign’s pressure. Kansas City started to possess in the midfield and in the 20th minute, Jenna Richmond saw her half-volley miss wide right.

Moments later, Rodriguez opened the scoring in the 22nd minute after a build-up from an errant Keelin Winters pass. Rodriguez’s diagonal run in behind the Reign defense and composed finish put the visitors up early.

The Reign, accustomed to playing from behind this season, didn’t sit back but continued to press. As she has been all season, Fishlock was spirited throughout; it was her ball over the top shortly after restart that found Little making a run into the penalty area down the right side. Nicole Barnhart, who had a clean game despite the final score line, was called into action and made the kick save, which would have turned the game’s momentum back Seattle’s way.

In a moment of off-positioning, the FC Kansas City defense let Nahomi Kawasumi find the end of a Megan Rapinoe cross that missed out wide. As would be the case throughout the game, Seattle created its chances but the final pass or shot just wasn’t there because of a compact and organized Kansas City defense. Kassey Kallman, tasked with trying to contain Kawasumi, time and again would tuck in to defend the cross coming in from the flanks.

Highlights that Don’t Appear
in Highlight Reels

FC Kansas City’s first goal was the result of a 10-pass build-up in which nine players touched the ball.


Click on image to see the play.

On Repeat

The second half opened up in much the same way as the game started: Seattle using high pressure to create chances while Kansas City maintained its defensive shape and looked for any opportunity to slow the game down.

And in like fashion, it was Holiday to Rodriguez in the 56th minute that increased the visitors’ lead. Holiday carved her way through the Seattle defense to lay the ball off to a wide open Rodriguez, whose left-footed sliding shot found the back of the net. Holiday’s two assists and play on both sides of the ball would earn her the 2014 Championship MVP honor.

Still, Seattle fought on and pressured, throwing numbers at Kansas City when possible. A Rapinoe shot off the crossbar with a couple of minutes left started a mad flurry in front of Kansas City’s goal. Reign substitute Mariah Nogueira’s header off the crossbar in the 87th minute culminated in a goal for the home side as Rapinoe’s shot caught a flat-footed Barnhart and found the back of the net.

It wasn’t enough, however. The clock ticked on and the Blues’ defense held strong as FC Kansas City handed the Seattle Reign its first home loss of the season and claimed the 2014 NWSL Championship.

What’s Development Got to Do With It?

That’s the big question, isn’t it? When and how does the NWSL fit into player development for the U.S. Women’s National Team. The When is easy: not until the next World Cup cycle. U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati and USWNT Head Coach Jill Ellis have made it clear the focus is on the 2015 Women’s World Cup. Recent call-ups don’t suggest otherwise.

The How is not so easy but take a look at this year’s final and it’s clear how the league can not only help up-and-coming players but also established players:

Sydney Leroux. Her stats this season don’t tell the whole story. Seattle Reign FC Head Coach Laura Harvey asked her to play a different role this year. Full credit to Leroux for playing the part and developing her game.

Keelin Winters. The final wasn’t her best game, but here is Exhibit A in the case to be made for Winters getting a “look”: the 2012 and 2013 NWSL seasons.

Amy Rodriguez. Have you ever seen Rodriguez look so confident and comfortable? The NWSL gave her time to regain fitness and form. She adds a different attacking element to a stacked USWNT attacking corps. One thing is certain: When Rodriguez is confident, she scores goals.

Lauren Holiday. If anyone understands what Holiday is capable of, it’s her college coach, Jill Ellis. But Holiday’s NWSL campaigns should serve as a gentle reminder that she’s at her best when running at defenses and creating.

Jen Buczkowski. Exhibit B in the case for Buczkowski: her entire career. She’s been a stabilizing presence in the midfield in the Women’s Professional Soccer league and the NWSL.

Jenna Richmond. Both Holiday and Sauerbrunn raved about the rookie. Richmond stepped into a role vacated by Desiree Scott, who moved to Notts County in the FA WSL. Sauerbrunn called her a “little professional” while Holiday acknowledged her and Buczkowski as the “glue that keeps us together.”

After the game, Rodriguez recognized the impact the league has had for her and saw its importance going forward:

“This is a great platform for girls to get better. I know for me, personally, I excelled in this league, playing against so many great players, great defenders. And I think that the quality of players is just going to keep growing, developing through this league.”

Year 2 of the league might be a little early to start seeing a clear development pipeline to the senior U.S. team in light of the clear mandate set by Gulati, and Year 3 is going to be truncated by the World Cup. Year 4 is where it’s at for many reasons: it would be the first time a fully professional women’s soccer league in the United States makes it to a year four and marks the start of a new cycle for players.

What’s Next?

Seattle Reign FC Head Coach Laura Harvey’s 2013 offseason was a master class in roster rebuilding. This year, she’ll be joined by her fellow NWSL head coaches as they contemplate a shortened 2015 season with national team players gone for seven to eight games due to the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Decisions start sooner rather than later, as September 6, 2014, is the final day teams can exercise 2015 player contract options (which will see the base salary increased to account for the longer season). The  college draft will be interesting in light of the adjusted schedule and (perhaps) loss of international players who stay closer to home for the season.

For non-allocated players, many are already en route to their next clubs. Australia is a popular destination for several Americans during the offseason. The NWSL and Westfield W-League would do well to establish an official partnership, perhaps not in regards to allocated players, but to make the movement of players between leagues easier and more efficient.