Well, that wasn't what we wanted. Again the season ends in the final moment, at the feet — or in this case, at the head ‐ of Amy Rodriguez. It's thin gruel right now, but there's some gratification that they lost to a better team. It wasn't a bad bounce or bad luck or a bad call. Kansas City were just better. With their full complement of national team players, this win completes a run for them of six wins in seven, and six shutouts in seven for their near-unassailable defense.
Seattle could have beaten them anyway — and was close to doing it — with a peak performance. But they were a bit off. Kim Little was a bit off. Her one, good open chance was shot straight into Nicole Barnhart's chest. The passing in the final third was a bit off. Megan Rapinoe was a bit off. Bev Yanez was rendered invisible by KC's defense. The defense was largely solid, but for one fateful play. Hope Solo had nothing to do except try to make one hero-save on an A-Rod header cannily sent softly back from the direction she was moving, and Solo was just short. The Reign were not, it seemed to the naked eye, playing with confidence, despite some bluster in the lead-up.
Coach Laura Harvey placed much of the blame for losing last year, in retrospect, on her and the European players feeling too satisfied with the Shield and not understanding the importance of the playoffs. Jess Fishlock followed her lead in the run-up to the final, echoing the same narrative. The unfrozen caveman routine around not comprehending our strange playoff system was always a little thin. Even European players grow up in the shadow of Champions League and the World Cup. They understand knockout tournaments perfectly well. And now they can no longer lean on that excuse. Harvey made it clear in the lead-up that they fully understood the importance of these playoffs, and they were second best anyway.
It may be that Harvey's intensely player-focused coaching style is tuned for success over the long haul, but not in precise, important matches. It is perhaps an unfair lesson to take, given the talent differentials, but her dominant Arsenal teams fell three consecutive times in the Champions League semifinals to the top German and French teams before her move to America. That said, I would personally not swap her for any coach, living or dead. If it's true that some frailty in finals is a price we pay for her, I'll pay it twice over.
Despite the loss, we will always have the peculiar sight of Riveters cosplaying as FCKC fans en masse, cheering for a rival team in their own stadium. A highlight was the attempt to cobble together a Build a Bonfire chant, despite the fact that there was no middle ingredient and putting "rain" on top of a bonfire might be the silliest idea in the long history of fire. If, say, a final were to be played between the Thorns and Red Stars in Memorial next year, how many Reign supporters would dress up as Red Stars fans? The number might literally be 0. That's always been the strange asymmetry in the southern end of the Cascadia rivalry. Seattle wants Portland to lose, all else being equal. Portland wants Seattle to lose beyond all common sense or dignity.
The 'neutral' field final seemed to be, despite being unhelpful to the Reign, a success — especially to Nike, who took advantage of a final in their hometown to cement their partnership with the league. Memorial would have been a fine host, but I suspect Jeff Plush lives in terror of having to host a final at some of the ramshackle venues around the league and will be committed to neutral venues going forward. Ideally it would be an actual neutral venue, where no NWSL team plays — say in California or Toronto or New York City. But sticking a finger in the wind, I'd guess that next year's final will be played in Orlando.
Now we re-enter the corridor of uncertainty that is the offseason. Seattle has two very good draft picks and the presumed return of Havana Solaun. Harvey will be here. I would expect Rapinoe and Fishlock to be here. Little, the foundation of our attack, will hopefully be here. Perversely, the loss may increase the odds, since she seems to be driven by the next challenge in her career, and losing this final leaves one challenge unachieved in America.
If the team can return mostly unscathed, they really only need depth at forward and help at fullback. Stephanie Cox on the left has hinted that this would be her last year. Kendall Fletcher on the right was a gamer, but the right flank was the team's achilles heel all season (and in the final), and if they want to reach Kansas City levels of defensive dominance they will need a right back in the Ali Krieger or Ella Masar mold.
We will, at some point, review the season in detail. For now, we mourn; we wait through the tortuously long NWSL offseason, as our players disperse to the four winds on loan; we look forward to the first-ever fourth season for a pro women's league; we mull over what it will take to clear the final hurdle in 2016.