Thad Bell of the Blue Testament blog, which covers Sporting KC and FC Kansas City, has agreed to a pregame RITUALISTIC EXCHANGE OF INQUIRY.
Amy Rodriguez. She was technically on the Reign roster last year but missed the whole season to have a child. When the dust cleared on Laura Harvey's offseason tradeapalooza, A-Rod was in KC and Sydney Leroux was in Seattle. That was widely seen as a big upgrade for the Reign, but Rodriguez finished second in the golden boot race. How does she play for KC and what's been the key to all of that offensive production?
A-Rod has progressed steadily throughout the season. At the beginning she was a bit rusty and not at 100%. Of course this case of rusty was scoring goals but they were very direct. As the season progressed so did A-Rod's runs. The game winner for FC Kansas City last Saturday saw Rodriguez go wide then use her speed to slip a defender off of her back shoulder and slide the seem behind another defender where Lauren Holiday laid the ball out for her. A nice goal and a better run. The real reason she has been so good? Lauren Holiday is her best friend and Holiday serves her very well.
What's year 2 of FCKC been like off the field? The move into the smallest venue in the league makes it hard to draw any conclusions from the attendance. One of the best teams in the league 2 years running is hopefully making ground in the local sports scene.
FC Kansas City graduated from a high school stadium with football lines to a college with a dedicated soccer field. Unfortunately that meant a smaller stadium seating wise and losing some Kansas fans that can't or won't cross into Missouri. Despite less attendance, the crowds are more into it. The Blue Crew supporters group is right behind one goal (sometimes they trade ends to follow opposing keepers) and they are better able to be heard and seen than before. Without being able to sell alcohol or have some "fun" tailgates, it has been hard to draw the same rowdy Cauldron crowd that Sporting KC enjoys.
The turf (the famous 159 degree turf) that Portland's Riley whined about post game is far better than the high school turf was and plays much better.
I do think the team could market better but they have made some solid moves building a youth club system that will give them a go-to ticket buying pool.
We know about Rodriguez and Holiday and Tymrak and Sauerbrunn, but who's someone that's maybe flown under the radar who could have a big game in the final?
Almost anyone that you did not name but I would say either Jen Buczkowski or Jenna Richmond. Both of the defensive mids could cause trouble. Richmond has a goal and four assists while Buz has a goal and three assists. Buz has gotten into the attack more this year and if you ever watch her in practice, you will see she is deadly from around the box. Coach Andonovski made the FC Kansas City versus Portland game into a Buz versus Vero match and Buz won. Richmond has quietly turned into a mid that not only compliments Buz but is a force by herself.
Has Seattle's success come all from the off season trades or is there other factors like style, chemistry?
A lot has to go right to have a season like Seattle's had. The players get along well and there's a lot of belief in Laura Harvey's pressing and attacking style. And there was evidence that when it was actually assembled (meaning Hope Solo and Megan Rapinoe were playing) last year's Reign was competitive -- in June and July after they were already out of the running they only lost 1 of 8 games.
But the biggest factor by far was the offseason acquisitions. And not the trades really (though there were some trades to get players' rights), but all of the free agent signings. Kim Little was the best player in the league this season. Naho Kawasumi might be one of the top 5 attacking players in the league, though she's overshadowed by Little, Leroux, and Rapinoe. Bev Goebel has been a workhorse in the attack and leads the team in appearances. Kendall Fletcher quietly solidified the central defense that was the weakness of the team last year and probably should have gotten more consideration for Defender of the Year. All that talent turned a pretty good team into one that can go on a run like they did this season.
Kim Little, has anyone been able to contain her and could you please tell us in advance how?
The secret is actually to give her as much time on the ball as possible and back away. This confuses her and causes her to behave erratically and could be the key to beating the Reign.
As good as Seattle has been, it seems like FC Kansas City has matched up fairly well. a Seattle 3-2 win early in the season and then FC Kansas City was the first team to not lose with a 1-1 draw and another 1-1 result a few weeks later. Does Seattle see Kansas City as a threat or were they more worried about other teams?
Harvey definitely respects KC. For two years she's told anyone who'll listen that Andonovski has his teams play the way she wants her teams to play. We can get Portland-focused up here for obvious reasons, but rivalry aside I think Seattle and Kansas City were clearly a step above the rest of the league all season and it's a perfect final matchup.