The Beginning of a Curse; or, the 2014 NWSL Championship Final
Before there was a NWSL Shield curse, before their coaches essentially swapped teams in 2018, before they were Utah Royals and OL Reign: they were FC Kansas City and Seattle Reign. Going into the 2014 NWSL Championship final, everyone outside of Kansas City, Missouri was sure that Seattle would be crowned champs. Ending the regular season 16-2-6 and undefeated at home, this team boasted pure talent, technical skill, and the tenacity to win no matter what.
But FCKC was no slouch either. Finishing second in the regular season with 12-7-5, they were more than capable of holding their own against Seattle's juggernaut of a team. And they would prove it in the most important game of their club careers.
For the first twenty minutes of the Championship game, it was nothing but Reign. Holding the majority of possession, making FCKC chase them at every turn, this team was dominant and seemingly impossible to break down. Their passing was good, they created excellent chances (sometimes out of nowhere) and they ran FCKC ragged. It seemed liked everyone assumed either Megan Rapinoe or Kim Little or even Naho Kawasumi would open up the scoring before too long.
But you know what happens when you assume, right?
In the 20th minute, Jenna Richman picks up a poor clearance from Seattle and launches a volley that just grazes the far post - and suddenly everyone's sitting straight up and thinking about how CLOSE that came to being the opening goal. Seattle appears to realize too late that this team means business as Lauren Holiday comes charging straight down the midfield, drawing the Seattle defense to her. Amy Rodriguez pulls wide to the side, waiting for Holiday to slip her the ball as the defense seems to just STOP playing, allowing Rodriguez to fire off a rocket that's too high for Hope Solo, who came out of goal to try and head it off. Glenn Davis had called it moments before that FCKC could possibly strike first, and boy did they in the 22nd minute.
For the next twenty-minutes, Seattle peppers the FCKC goal, shot after shot after shot as they play catch up. Things get super chippy in the final ten minutes of the first half, including a play for the ball that sees Keelin Winters put Rodriguez in what appears to be a headlock. I would argue that Rodriguez was simply the right height to snuggle under Winters' arm but *shrugs*. The first half ends 1-0 with more surprises to come.
The second half starts pretty much the same, with Seattle having most of the possession and FCKC just kind of chasing them around. You can see the looks of grim determination on the Reign players as Nicole Barnhart stops shot after shot. Their body language starts to register frustration, but not yet panic. FCKC pick their chances and look for weakness - and in the 55th minute they find it.
Holiday picks up a pass and literally DANCES between Winters and Lauren Barnes, spinning around her and passing the ball between Winters and Steph Cox to a waiting Rodriguez who seems to come out of NOWHERE to slot the ball home past Solo. It truly is one of the most beautiful goals I have ever seen because it doesn't seem possible. When Rodriguez sticks her leg out to hit the ball, the angle of it makes you think it's going to either curl away from goal or be super wide. Instead it's hit perfectly, the ball bouncing off the net with force as FCKC cruise past Seattle 2-0.
Rodriguez would exit the game in the 62nd minute after she went down clutching her calf. Sarah Hagen would take her place and people wondered if FCKC wouldn't blow this lead without their superstar goal scorer. Kim Little picks up the ball in the 65th minute and pulls off a spin move to get around Hagen and the sound that left my mouth was heard only by dogs.
They're not lying when they say defense wins championships. Nothing that Seattle could do was getting through this FCKC defense. They had an answer for every play, every pass, every trick. Sydney Leurox would come off in the 66th minute for super-sub Bev Goebel, and Amy LePeilbet would enter for Merritt Mathias in the 70th minute to continue guarding the midfield so the defense wouldn't lose their shape.
Things really start to pick up in the 78th minute when LePeilbet picks up a yellow card after yanking and tripping Rapinoe from behind and Seattle win a free kick in a super dangerous area just outside the box. But Rapinoe wastes it, hitting the wall and though she sends in another chance, the FCKC defense heads it away, making me wonder what the average height of that backline was.
Seattle really starts to panic in the 80th minute as Winters and other players lose the ball way too easily and it would appear that they've run out of ideas on how to break down this impenetrable defense. Until the 86th minute.
Kawasumi plays the corner, sending in a wonderful cross for her teammate to try and head in, but it hits the crossbar after she's brought down by an FCKC player. Seattle SCREAMS for a penalty kick, but the ball is still in play. Out of pure frustration Rapinoe smacks the ball into the net past Barnhart, and just like that, it's a one goal game with less than five minutes to go.
Seattle plays like a team possessed, recapturing their first-half attitude, getting the ball behind the defense, and keeping Barnhart on her toes as she struggles to stop shots and hold onto this lead with three minutes of stoppage time. Of course no championship final would be complete without Hope Solo getting a yellow card for arguing with the ref over a foul called against a Seattle player.
And just like that, FCKC defeat the undefeated Seattle Reign and win their first of two titles - and thus create the NWSL Shield-Winner Curse.
But that's another story for another day.