Projected Lineups (Reed injury status uncertain)
Clearly the two best teams in the NWSL in 2014 will meet in Seattle on Sunday afternoon to decide a champion. Seattle won the season series, but the last two meetings of these teams, including one less than a month ago in Kansas City, have been 1-1 draws. The final regular season meeting saw a late Megan Rapinoe strike cancel out Amy Rodriguez’s early opener. Notably, in that last match, Seattle did not start Naho. Kendall Fletcher, or Elli Reed, while FCKC played with Sarah Hagen in the attack. Tactically, this one will look similar, but with shifted personnel.
How They Got Here
Regular season champions Seattle raced out to an early lead in the table with seven straight wins and sixteen matches unbeaten. They finished losing just two games, including one against Portland on the last day with everything already wrapped up. The semi-final win against Washington was a tense match, with the club again being forced to come from behind and needing a Hope Solo penalty save on Diana Matheson before Megan Rapinoe’s late winner.
FC Kansas City started slowly, winning just one of their first four but were just about Seattle’s equals for a good chunk of the middle of the season, going nine unbeaten and winning seven in a row at one point before a shattering 7-1 defeat to Portland. Despite winning just one of their final four regular season matches, the club outclassed Portland in searing heat in their semi-final, never looking like conceding against the Thorns’ high dollar superstars and easing to a 2-0 victory to reach the final.
Laura Harvey got a contract extension from Seattle after a torrid 2013 season, raising skepticism across many corners, but the Reign brass were proven right after Harvey delivered the regular season title to the club in dominating fashion this season. Harvey successfully rebuilt an embarrassingly poorly constructed squad in the offseason by adding international attacking talent like Naho and Kim Little, trading for Sydney Leroux and signing veteran American grafters like Beverly Goebel and Kendall Fletcher for depth. There were perhaps questions about the club’s mental fortitude under Harvey after they seemingly mailed it in late last season, but Seattle gained the most points from losing positions this season with twenty-two, underlining the Reign boss’ motivational skills and tactical acumen.
Big questions and big expectations also hung over Vlatko Andonovski going into the new season after the meltdown at the end of last season. His side was deeply criticized for the late-game blowups that ultimately cost them the regular season title and the semi-final against Portland at the end of 2013. It’s arguable as to whether they corrected that totally, as FCKC was still guilty of dropping the third most points from winning positions in the league this season. Still, Andonovski was able to steer the ship to safer waters after a rough start, and the club came up big in the semi-final win against Portland to kill off the ghosts of last season. Continue reading