A goal in each half by Sydney Leroux and Amy Rodriguez was enough to give FC Kansas City their first win of the season against the Boston Breakers as both teams rounded off the opening weekend of the National Women's Soccer League this year. The Breakers had their opportunities to get at least a goal out of this game but their lack of fluidity in the final third and some outstanding saves by FCKC goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart meant that the Breakers would leave Kansas City with no points to show for their efforts tonight.
The first fifteen minutes were all about FCKC's front three
The question before the game was how well would the front three of Leroux, Rodriguez and Shea Groom work with each other considering that all three players were used to being the focal point in most formations. That question was answered from almost the first whistle as all three continually tested the Breakers' backline with their pace and combination play. Rodriguez was the target of a long pass by Becky Sauerbrunn out of the back and the striker almost got onto the end of it but her touch let her down and Boston were able to recover. Two minutes later, in the fourth minute, Groom showed signs of what was to come. After being found out wide and unmarked, Groom got to the byline and put in a ball for Rodriguez to get onto. The ball was behind Rodrgiuez and Margaret Purce, who was playign at right back tonight, had to clear the ball away before Leroux could get onto it.
Boston did not heed the warning of this opportunity by FCKC and in the seventh minute, Leroux opened the scoring. Sauerbrunn was the architect as she put in another long pass for Leroux to catch up to. Purce was found on the wrong side of the FCKC forward and Leroux placed her finish with a first time hit past Abby Smith's despairing dive. That was Leroux first goal since the 2015 season and she was clearly delighted by the turn of events. In the 14th minute, Rodriguez almost made it two after Groom had driven forward from midfield and played Rodriguez through on goal. Smith came quickly off her line and Rodriguez hit her effort right at Smith's midriff. A minute later and this time, Rodriguez turned provider for Leroux as they found themselves in a two-on-one situation on the break. Leroux tried to round Smith and turned her effort towards goal only to watch it bounce off the post and away from goal.
Boston recover and begin to edge back into the game
After the first 15 minutes, Boston began to find some rhythm. In the 17th minute, Christina Gibbons seemed to have handled the ball in her own area but referee Christopher Spivey did not give the penalty despite Boston's appeals. After a replay was shown, it was clear that the referee had made a mistake and Boston should have been awarded the spot kick. In the same sequence of play, Barnhart needlessly gave the ball away but Rosie White's first touch let her down and the FCKC defenders were able to take the ball away from the New Zealand midfielder before she could profit on Barnhart's mistake. Boston continued to push for an equalizer and in the 28th minute, White almost got it. FCKC were unable to clear their lines and gave the ball away near their own penalty area. White picked up the rebound and fired towards goal but Barnhart got a big hand on the ball to deflect it out for a corner and prevent the goal.
Boston were beginning to pepper FCKC's goal but nothing clear cut had opened up for them. In fact, against the run of play, Rodriguez could have made it two for the home side in the 36th minute. Alexa Newfield found Rodriguez streaking towards goal and her pass deflected towards the feet of the striker. Smith was on the alert and came out quickly to smother the opportunity. The possession and momentum were in Boston's hands but it was FCKC who ended the half the strongest. At the end of the first half, a corner kick found the head of Yael Averbuch and Smith had to make a great diving save to stop the defender from scoring her first goal of the season.
Rodriguez goes through the high and the low of soccer in the second half
The second half of the game started the same way as the first, with FC Kansas City on top. A mix up between Purce and Megan Oyster allowed Rodriguez to sneak in and steal the ball at midfield from the two Boston defenders in the 48th minute. She got forward quickly before switching the ball to Groom on the other side of the field. Groom then go to the byline again and her cut back into the box found Rodriguez who finished well at the near post. Like Leroux, Rodriguez had missed the 2016 season and this was a welcome first goal since 2015 for the US international.
Less than ten minutes later, Rodriguez night took a turn for the worse. After a challenge between herself and Oyster, Rodriguez went down in apparent pain and seemed to be indicating at her left knee as the source of the issue. She was then substituted out after the medical team had evaluated her and placed her on a stretcher and was eventually placed in a full-leg brace. No other word has been put out by FC Kansas City apart from the fact that it was a knee injury for Rodriguez and that she would be evaluated at the hospital tomorrow for further news. It was an unfortunate end to Rodriguez' night after a very good performance for her and we send her well wishes.
Boston try to find a way back into the game
The same pattern emerged as that of the first half and Boston began to push at FCKC's defenses for a way through. However, it was Leroux in the 72nd minute that was first opportunity of the match after the stoppage for Rodriguez' injury. The forward received the ball at the top of the box after a turnover by Boston and one-timed her shot towards goal. Smith was well-beaten but the post was not and the Breakers breathed a sigh of relief as Leroux' effort went crashing off the post.
From then on it was all Boston as Rose Lavelle came to the fore and the change of bringing on Tiffany Weimer began to open up the FCKC backline. In the 79th minute, Weimer, using a quick shift of her feet, beat Gibbons and sent in a fantastic cross that was met by Allysha Chapman at the near post. Chapman must have thought she had scored but Barnhart got enough of a finger on her effort to tip it onto the crossbar. The rebound fell into a scramble of players and eventually came to Natasha Dowie who was not expecting it and could not adjust her feet quickly enough. The ball ricocheted off her shins and into the hands of a grateful Barnhart. Weimer continued to provide some great flank play for Boston and clearly had the beating of Gibbons but Boston were unable to capitalize on the crosses she was putting into the box. Boston had one more half chance before the final whistle as a Lavelle corner caused chaos in the box but no Boston player could apply the finishing touch and Barnhart was there again to push the ball away to safety.
Boston huffed and puffed but in the end did not have the quality up front to punish FC Kansas City whereas the home side have plenty of attacking firepower and used it to great effect tonight. FC Kansas City will travel to face the Chicago Red Stars next week while the Breakers will have their home opener against Sky Blue FC.