As the fourth season of NWSL enters the third week it's been established that Seattle and Kansas City are the elite teams of the league. The last two NWSL Championships have seen the two sides meet, and both times, FC Kansas City came out on top. Yes it hurt a bit to type that, thank you for asking.
Both teams are the elite teams because, like with most great teams whatever the sport, it began at the top. Head coaches Laura Harvey and Vlatko Andonovski are the best coaches in NWSL because they've been given time to see out and build the teams they envisioned when the league began in 2013. Harvey has two NWSL Shields and two Coach of the Year honors, and Andonovski has two NWSL league titles because of their efforts.
So yes, when Seattle and Kansas City meet on the schedule, it is must-see stuff because these are the two best teams in the league. And this was the scene today at Memorial Stadium, with the Reign coming out on top 1-0.
The first half played out like any other Seattle/Kansas City match—a feeling out process where a chess match between Harvey and Andonovski was playing out on the field. Seattle showed a bit more progress in threatening Kansas City's goal in the first half. While there is only one Jess Fishlock, Beverly Yanez fit into the midfield comfortably alongside Keelin Winters and Kim Little. Harvey praised Yanez's shift in the midfield at the post-match conference, and Yanez said it herself post-match that whatever, wherever the team needs her to be, she'll be there.
In the second half, Seattle came off the block pressing Kansas City more, and for the 4,083 in attendance, you could feel the breakthrough was going to come.
Enter Kim Little in the 58th minute.
In a match-up where the best teams, best coaches face off, you hope for one of the league's best players to shine, and that is what Kim Little did. After some fortunate bounces on attempts by Kansas City to clear the ball in the box, the ball fell right to Little's feet and if there's one cardinal sin in NWSL it's you do not give Kim Little space and time. Yet that is exactly what she had and one well-placed shot with her right foot sent the ball screaming way past Kansas City goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart's right and into the back of the net.
Hilariously enough the effort sent Little falling to ground—maybe she was even in awe of her own magic. And this was a match where Little was all over the place as if she decided to put the team on her back. Dribbling through multiple defenders, setting up attack runs, coming back to defense, this was a game that showed off the artistry Kim Little can do on a soccer field. If one another case to why Little is held in unanimous regard as one of the best players in the world, this match should be viewed if you like to see magic.
The rest of the way, Seattle was able to contain any effort by Kansas City to get in an equalizer. One can say on paper it looked easy for Seattle, being Kansas City was without forwards Shea Groom (red card suspension) and Tiffany McCarty (injury), but Harvey said post-match that you cannot write off Kansas City. No one should, because despite the departures Kansas City had in the off-season, if there's one coach who can work through the changes and still field an elite squad, it's Vlatko Andonovski.
Harvey also noted that rookie Carson Pickett had one of her best games (to date), being able to contain Mandy Laddish and US international Heather O'Reilly. Pickett herself post-match attributed her solid performance tonight to a mix of coaching, scouting, and her general competitiveness. If there's one thing Reign fans can enjoy three weeks into the season is that while Pickett has huge shoes to fill, replacing the legendary Stephanie Cox, she does not play like a rookie. Nor does she carry herself as one. Watch her play or if you're able to spend any bit of time with her, you'll know that she is confident she can stay and hang with the squad.
And it was night and day from the disappointing performance Seattle had starting off the season against Sky Blue to how they looked tonight against the defending champions. Harvey herself said nobody on the team showed any sign of being the side from the home opener. A matchup with the two best teams and two best coaches in the short history of NWSL, this one fit the bill and was just another installment between the two sides that often is decided by one goal.
Here's post-match conferences from Laura Harvey, Kim Little, Carson Pickett, and Beverly Yanez.
Next up for Seattle Reign FC is a trip across country to Orlando to take on the new team on the block, Orlando Pride. Kickoff for that is Sunday, May 8 at 2 PM PDT.