“To win for club and country is absolutely the best feeling in the world.” Last night, Lauren Holiday, beloved FC Kansas City midfielder, retired from professional soccer as a champion for her club and for her country. FC Kansas City and Seattle Reign, in a repeat of last years’s NWSL Championship match, met at Providence Park in front of a crowd of 13,264 to see if the league leaders or the defending champions would claim the coveted 2015 title. In the end, FC Kansas City successfully defended its NWSL title in a 1-0 win, with lone goal in the 78th minute, a header from close range from Amy Rodriguez (A-Rod) fed by her USWNT teammates Holiday and O’Reily. In spite of US Women’s National team standouts Hope Solo and Megan Rapinoe, noteable efforts from Kim Little and Rapinoe, and a strong second half showing, Reign were simply unable to pour through KC’s goalkeeper, Nicole Barnhart.
“Nicole Barnhart has been a crucial piece of the puzzle. She’s been in goal for us for three years and every year she leads the league in shutouts. She has more shutouts that anybody else. To come into this championship game and play against Seattle who has scored more goals than any other team in the league. To make a couple of crucial saves that speaks a lot to who she is and how important she is for our team.”
– Andonovski, FC Kansas City
Seattle finished with the league’s best regular season record (13-3-4), undefeated in nine straight matches before heading into the championship. Meanwhile, the Blues had a league-high shoutout record of 10 matches (including last night’s win). This was FC Kansas City’s third consecutive appearance in the postseason and their second straight victory.
“I think there are two things. One, there’s the belief, we never stopped believing. And second thing, the family environment that we have. Everything we did, we did together. I knew that sooner or later, we were going to click, we were going to gel together, we were going to make it happen. Like you said we did start a little bit slow, we were 3-5-2, right in the middle of the season with 11 points and we got criticized, we got questioned from the media. One thing I can say right now is, ‘don’t count us out.”
– Andonovski, FC Kansas City
Whether the league record or the title of NWSL Champion is more important remains a point of contention, both among the players and the supporters. There’s no right or wrong answer there, in the US we simply place a great deal of importance on playoffs and a symbolic finale. To fall back on regular season records and to discount the relevancy of a title match is to be purposefully blind to the way sports work in this country. Similarly, holding a league record should be a source for much pride and celebration. In many ways, and as rare as it is to say this in sports, there were two winning teams on the pitch last night. And in every way, watching the NWSL Final on HD on Fox Sports last night, in a year of such growth of the women’s game, was a win for all women.