The Seattle Reign and FC Kansas City are about to face off in the final of the National Women’s Soccer League playoffs tonight at 9:30 PM EST on Fox Sports 1. If you didn’t know that, you are not only not alone, but you have come to the right place.
First of all, don’t let a lack of knowledge keep you from watching tonight’s game; it is a final, and will be nothing less than the premier showcase event of the season. You will get to watch Seattle, the class of the NWSL throughout 2015, face off against Kansas City, the defending champions of 2014, in a rematch of last year’s NWSL Final.
Seattle enters the 2015 final under similar circumstances as it did last year’s, with some very important differences. Again, Seattle dominated the regular season. They clinched a playoff spot almost a month before the season ended, and finished in first place 10 points above second place Chicago. They still sport arguably the best player in the league — arguably even the world — in Megan Rapinoe. But this time around they have been playing with an attacking mentality that they didn’t have last year.
Seattle Reign midfielder Keelin Winters told us about this new found mentality. She said that last year the team was guilty of coasting into the playoffs and never hitting the gear it needed to offensively; the team only scored three goals across two playoff games last year, including only one in it’s 2-1 defeat to Kansas City in the final. This year, however, the team has already matched last year’s playoff haul in its first game, beating the Washington Spirit 3-0 (watch highlights on YouTube here) in the semifinals.
“Once we got one goal we didn’t slow down,” she said. “We actually picked up steam.”
Seattle’s head coach, Laura Harvey, has been preaching a philosophy of “goals win games.” And the team is keen on continuing to practice what she preaches in the final.
Kansas City had similar success in the semifinals as it beat the Chicago Red Stars 3-0 (watch highlights on YouTube here). It was a dominating display, but the team isn’t making the victory something that it’s not.
“Chicago was a great team all season so we knew we had to be our best to beat them,” said FC Kansas City midfielder Yael Averbuch over the phone. “We were able to capitalize really well on a couple early mistakes.”
Those mistakes included a glaring goalkeeping error from Chicago’s Michele Dalton to gift FCKC its first goal. Kansas City simply cannot count on Seattle making those same mistakes; first choice keeper Hope Solo is too good and too experienced, and the same can be said for much of the Reign’s talented squad. Averbuch and FCKC, however, are not intimidated.
“On paper you can draw up who has the better talent at which spots and how is that gonna go tactically, but really on any given day when it’s a championship game it comes down to which team really wants it more.”
Averbuch said that her team has been preparing for the final by reinforcing the notion that it needs to be the best version of itself that it can be. It will try and contain Seattle’s talent while simultaneously playing to its own strengths. A tall order against a team of Seattle’s quality, but the Reign will have some headaches of their own to deal with in the form of FCKC forwards Lauren Holiday and Amy Rodriguez.
Harvey says Seattle needs to starve the pairing of possession.
“The cutthroat answer is don’t let them get the ball. That is honestly the only thing you can do. And when they get it, just make sure they get it as close to their goal as they do to your goal.”
Seattle will play a possession game against Kansas City. They have preached being more aggressive all postseason, and they will continue to do so. Seattle has talked of tactics before the match, but not in a defensive way. They have been focusing on how to break down FC Kansas City, according to Winters, not how to avoid being broken down themselves. Not that they have not talked about defending; they just know that they have the class to keep the ball, and that they will need to find a cutting edge to play the way they want to play and win doing it.
Megan Rapinoe will often be the manifestation of that cutting edge. Look for her to be lined up at her traditional position on the left wing. Seattle will look to find her again and again because she has the ability to beat a defender with ease, and is the best creator in the league, maybe even the world.
Kansas City is going to have to do its best to absorb Seattle’s pressure and counter when it can. It will be a mentally exhausting day for the entire squad, but Holiday thinks that it will be an exciting game.
“It’s not just going to be a battle of physicality or a battle of speed. It’s going to be a battle of tactics, and I think that is the best soccer to watch.”
If Kansas City can counter with efficiency and organization, it will be a fun game to watch. If they falter mentally during what will likely be repeated spells of pressure, then the game could get out of their reach before they know it. If Seattle scores early it will lead to a truly open and exciting game, but that may not be the game that Kansas City wants to play.
I see Seattle winning the 2015 NWSL Final by a score of 3-1, scoring first, going up by two, conceding, and then putting the game away with a third.
But, I do think that Kansas City has more than a puncher’s chance of victory as well. This team upset Seattle last year, and is fully capable of doing it again.
It will be a great match, a spectacle deserving a crowd of 20,000+ and a national TV audience.
Watch the 2015 NWSL Championship Game on Fox Sports 1 at 9:30 PM EST.
Follow me on Twitter: @yetly