Seattle Reign FC

Reign must shut down Rodriguez to win NWSL title

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SEATTLE, WA— The NWSL’s two leading scorers face off when Kim Little and Seattle Reign FC host Amy Rodriguez and FC Kansas City in the 2014 NWSL Championship Game at Starfire Stadium in Tukwila, Wash. on Sunday, Aug. 31 at 12 noon Pacific Time in a match broadcast nationally on ESPN2.

Game Info | Watch Live | Tickets

Amy Rodriguez, you say? Yes, that is the same US star that almost played for Seattle. She was rostered for the Reign’s first season but missed the entire competition to have a baby. Her return to play has been nothing short of stellar as her 13 goals leads Kansas City into the Final. Rodriguez was dealt to FCKC in November 2013 as Reign General Manager / Head Coach Laura Harvey wheeled and dealed. Seattle got midfielder Kristie Mewis in return. She’s no longer on the Reign active roster.

“My mind-set to get back was really strong, and luckily my body cooperated,” Rodriguez told KansasCity.com. “My teammates have also been really supportive and helped me out a lot, and the trainers as well.

“It’s been a collective effort, and I am excited that I have been able to come back the way I have.”

#8 Amy Rodriguez will be a focal point of the Seattle defense on Sunday. (Wilson Tsoi)

#8 Amy Rodriguez will be a focal point of the Seattle defense on Sunday. (Wilson Tsoi)

Both the Reign and FC Kansas City will be competing in their first NWSL Championship Game after securing semifinal victories over the weekend – with FCKC recording a 2-0 win Saturday over defending champions Portland Thorns FC and Seattle securing a 2-1 comeback victory Sunday against the Washington Spirit.

Lauren Holiday, last season’s MVP, led the way for FC Kansas City with a goal and an assist against the Thorns, while Rodriguez added her first playoff goal to the 13 she scored during the regular season. Forward Sarah Hagen had an assist and goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart needed to make just one save to record the shutout and help the Blues avenge a 2013 postseason defeat by Portland.

In the other semifinal, Little converted from the penalty spot in the second half for the Reign to level the score against Washington before forward Megan Rapinoe stepped up to score the game-winning goal in the 82nd minute. Goalkeeper Hope Solo made six saves for Seattle.

The NWSL Championship Game will be the fourth meeting this season between FC Kansas City and the Reign – with Seattle claiming a 3-2 home victory May 14 followed by a pair of 1-1 draws at Verizon Wireless Field in Kansas City on May 21 and August 2.

The match will be played at Starfire Stadium, where the Reign played their home games in 2013 before moving to Moda Pitch at Memorial Stadium for 2014. Seattle posted a 4-6-1 record at Starfire Stadium last season before enjoying an undefeated 8-0-4 regular season this year at their new home.

FCKC went 4-7-1 away from home this season and were winless in their last four road games of the regular season.

While the Blues were able to exact a measure of revenge against the Thorns to reach the championship game in their second consecutive trip to the NWSL postseason, the Reign have the chance to claim the 2014 Championship after a seventh-place finish last season.

Following an offseason transformation engineered by coach and general manager Laura Harvey, Seattle proclaimed their championship aims with an NWSL-record seven consecutive wins to start the season.

FC Kansas City were the first team to come away with a point against the Reign following their 1-1 draw May 21.

Still, Seattle pushed on – fueled by the contributions of newcomers Little (16 goals, 7 assists), Nahomi “Naho” Kawasumi (9 goals, 5 assists), Bev Goebel (5 goals, 4 assists) and Sydney Leroux (5 goals) – and established another NWSL record with a run of 16 games unbeaten to start the season before a 1-0 loss July 12 to the Chicago Red Stars.

In particular, Little’s abilities were on full display as she was voted the Army National Guard Player of the Month three times (April, May, July) and established a new single-season scoring record with 16 goals – breaking the previous mark of 12 set by Holiday in 2013.

The Reign went 1-0-2 against the KC Blues in 2014. A 3-2 win at Memorial was follwed by two 1-1 draws in KC. (Wilson Tsoi)

The Reign went 1-0-2 against the KC Blues in 2014. A 3-2 win at Memorial was follwed by two 1-1 draws in KC. (Wilson Tsoi)

Paired with the Reign’s established core of Jess Fishlock (4 goals, 8 assists), Rapinoe (4 goals, 1 assist), Keelin Winters (3 goals) and Solo (5 shutouts), Seattle’s new-look team went on to set single-season NWSL records for points (54), wins (16), goal difference (+30), goals scored (50) and goals against average (0.83) on their way to capturing the 2014 NWSL Shield for the league’s best regular-season record on July 31 at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston.

Despite finishing 13 points behind Seattle, FC Kansas City completed the 2014 regular season in second and with their own set of accolades.

After watching the Reign erase their 10-game unbeaten run from the record book, FCKC reeled off seven straight victories May 25July 6 to match the NWSL record set earlier in the season by Seattle.

The Blues outscored their opponents 14-1 during the streak behind outstanding performances from goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart, the Player of the Month for June, and her backline of Becky Sauerbrunn, Leigh Ann Robinson, Nikki Phillips and Merritt Mathias. Sauerbrunn was named Defender of the Year in the league.

The Blues feature #4 , Defender of the Year in the NWSL. (WIlson Tsoi)

The Blues feature #4 Becky Sauerbrunn, Defender of the Year in the NWSL. (WIlson Tsoi)

Barnhart in particular took her game to another level, posting shutouts in six consecutive starts and holding FC Kansas City’s opponents off the scoreboard for 587 straight minutes en route to a league-best eight clean sheets.

In addition to a strong defensive spine, FCKC benefitted from the additions of Rodriguez (13 goals, 3 assists) and Hagen (4 goals, 1 assist).

Rodriguez, who the Blues acquired in an offseason trade with Seattle after she missed the entire 2013 season to give birth to her first child, combined especially well with Holiday (8 goals, 7 assists) and Erika Tymrak (4 goals, 4 assists) as coach Vlatko Andonovski guided his team to their second consecutive postseason.

Tickets will be made available for purchase by the general public beginning at 12 p.m. ET on Tuesday, August 26 online atwww.ReignFC.com or by phone at 1 (855) REIGN-FC.

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