KC NWSL plays to draw

Kansas City NWSL played to a 0-0 draw on Friday night at Legends Field in Kansas City, Kansas.

Kansas City NWSL returned home for the first time in the month of July to take on the North Carolina Courage.

Goalkeeper Carly Nelson earned a shutout in her first career start with Kansas City as the game ended with a 0-0 draw.

Nelson explained after the game that it was a memorable experience for her to start and gain a clean sheet for Kansas City.
“Honestly, being out there when I stepped on the field for the first time, it’s kind of like a dream come true, but it’s exciting to experience,” she said. “I thought the team played well. Given the circumstances and everything that has happened this week – really proud of the team.”

The match kicked off only a day after a blockbuster trade between the Courage and Kansas City that saw three players (Hailie Mace, Katelyn Rowland and Kristen Hamilton) sent to Kansas City and Amy Rodriguez to North Carolina. Hamilton and Rodriguez both premiered in the Starting XI for their new clubs.

Kansas City opened the game on the front foot and applied the pressure on North Carolina’s backline, getting six shots off in the first 27 minutes.

Hamilton made an immediate impact as she had two early opportunities on Courage goalkeeper Casey Murphy. KC’s Darian Jenkins nearly converted in the 24th minute cutting inside her defender and striking a low left corner shot that was tipped away at the last moment.

The Courage had a chance of its own in the 29th minute when Taylor Smith had an open net from a rebound, but KC defender Kristen Edmonds came up huge with a chest save to keep it off the line. Although the possession and shots favored Kansas City, they were unable to find the back of the net in the first half.

Kansas City came out firing on all cylinders to start the second half with an early chance from rookie Kiki Pickett, who dribbled the flank and played a beautifully crossed ball in for Victoria Pickett, but the shot went wide.

Head cCoach Huw Williams was proud of Pickett’s play and her vocal leadership on the field

“One of the reasons why we drafted her so high is that Pickett is going to be an integral part of this team for a long time to come,” he said. “The leadership qualities that she brings to that locker room and to the field and to the practices is exactly what this team needs.”

In the 63rd minute Mace and Jordyn Listro both entered the game in an effort to bring fresh legs into the attack. Kansas City had its best chance of the game in the 86th minute when Mace streaked down the left side of the box and placed a perfectly driven ball to the low left corner. Courage goalkeeper Murphy was able to get a fingertip on it that tipped it just out of play.

Kansas City will now shift its focus as it heads on the road to visit the Portland Thorns at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 1. The game will be at Providence Park in Portland, Oregon, and will stream live on KCTV5 locally and Paramount+ nationally.

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North Carolina visits KC NWSL tonight in KCK

Following a bye week, Kansas City NWSL returns home to Legends Field on Friday.

Kansas City will play host to the North Carolina Courage, marking the inaugural showdown between the two clubs. Friday’s match kicks off at 7 p.m. and can be streamed live on Twitch.

Kansas City was last in action on July 11, falling 2-0 to the OL Reign. Reign forward Bethany Balcer scored the first of her two first-half goals in the third minute, intercepting a pass from Kansas City goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart and slotting it into an open net. In the 29th minute Balcer doubled the lead courtesy of a headed finish inside the six-yard box following a cross from midfielder Sofia Huerta.

Kansas City appeared to have a lifeline in the second half following a red card to OL Reign goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi in the 70th minute, but KC was unable to break through the Reign’s back line and get back into the match despite finishing with seven shots on target.

North Carolina meanwhile, enters Friday’s match on the heels of two consecutive losses. The sixth-place Courage’s most recent defeat came on July 17, in a 2-1 loss to the Houston Dash. Houston opened the scoring in the ninth minute through a goal by forward Shea Groom, but North Carolina leveled seven minutes later with a goal from forward Kristen Hamilton (now with Kansas City).

In the second half, Houston midfielder Gabby Seiler curled in a free kick from 23 yards out that served as the decisive goal. However, the result could have been entirely different had North Carolina not had two first-half apparent goals ruled offside.

Friday’s match marks a semi-milestone in Kansas City’s history, as the North Carolina Courage are the final team that Kansas City has yet to play in either the 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup or the regular season.

Head coach Paul Riley’s team was briefly on top of the NWSL table following a 2-0 victory over the Orlando Pride on July 4, but the Courage have slipped in recent weeks in part due to critical Olympic-related absences in all three levels of North Carolina’s formation.

Defender Abby Erceg (New Zealand), midfielder Sam Mewis (United States), and forward Lynn Williams (United States) were all named to the NWSL’s Team of the Month for June. Williams, who is tied for the NWSL lead in goals with five, Mewis, Erceg, and midfielder Debinha (Brazil) are all representing their countries in Tokyo, and the Courage are beginning to feel their absence.

After scoring a blistering 14 goals in their first eight games, North Carolina has mustered just one goal in its last two matches. Still, though, the Courage’s 15 regular-season goals are second in the league, one behind Portland’s total of 16. North Carolina also leads the league in assists with 12, with defender Carson Pickett (3), Debinha (2), and Williams (2) making up over half of that total. In goal, Casey Murphy sits at second place in the NWSL with 36 saves and is tied for the league lead with four clean sheets.

The July 4 victory against Orlando extended the Courage’s winning streak to four games before things grinded to a halt a bit over the last two weeks. However, the perhaps unlucky loss to Houston last week makes things apparent that North Carolina is more than capable of competing with the NWSL’s best without its most critical players.

Players to watch

Kansas City NWSL: Defender Kiki Pickett — 
Kansas City NWSL’s first-ever draft pick is working herself into the fold. After making her NWSL debut on June 26 against the Washington Spirit, former Stanford defender Kiki Pickett has played a bigger part in Kansas City’s last two matches. Pickett saw 19 minutes of action in Kansas City’s 1-1 draw with NJ-NY Gotham FC and played the entire second half in Kansas City’s 2-0 loss to OL Reign. She was impressive in her 45-minute cameo, and as the rookie grows more comfortable with the NWSL, Pickett should no-doubt be a vital part of Kansas City’s back line.

North Carolina Courage: Forward Jessica McDonald— The 33-year-old and 2019 Women’s World Cup champion has just two goals to her name in the 2021 regular season, but nearly doubled that total in last week’s match against the Houston Dash. It appeared McDonald had opened the scoring in the third minute of last Friday’s game, but her goal was ruled offside by the assistant referee. With the Courage trailing 2-1 in the second half, McDonald got her foot to a cross inside the Houston six-yard box, but her effort struck the crossbar. Still, the University of North Carolina graduate is a dynamic attacking presence that is a handful for most defenses to deal with. Look for McDonald to try and test Kansas City’s defense early and often on Friday.

Upcoming schedule

Including Friday’s match, Kansas City has 14 matches remaining in its inaugural season in the NWSL. Three of those 14 games come against the North Carolina Courage, a team that Kansas City plays on the road on Aug. 21 and at home on Sept. 5.

Kansas City plays four NWSL squads twice more in the regular season, including two matches each against the OL Reign and first-place Portland Thorns, but the Courage stand out as an outlier on Kansas City’s schedule. Over the next three months, Kansas City and North Carolina should become very familiar with one another.

Tickets for Friday’s match are available. More information about the different ways to join the action at Legends Field can be found at www.kcwoso.com/tickets.

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KC NWSL on the road today in Tacoma

Two teams looking to improve their standings square off on Sunday with both Kansas City NWSL and OL Reign on the hunt for a potentially season-altering three points.

Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, Washington, is the venue for Sunday’s 6 p.m. showdown, broadcast on KSMO-TV locally and streamed nationally on Paramount+.

Kansas City weathered a three-hour plus weather delay last Friday to earn a 1-1 draw on the road against NJ/NY Gotham FC.

Gotham FC struck first in the 31st minute on a well-placed goal from forward Ifeoma Onomanu, a goal that stood as the game’s only tally for the remainder of the first half and a majority of the second half.

However, in the game’s 83rd minute, Kansas City forward Marianna Larroquette conjured a bit of magic, touching the ball around a Gotham FC defender and lifting the ball over the opposing goalkeeper and into the back of the net from distance. Larroquette’s brilliant goal secured the draw, earning the forward a place at No. 5 on ESPN SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays.

OL Reign, meanwhile, dropped its second consecutive contest last Friday against the Houston Dash, 2-0. Despite having over 60 percent possession and recording two more shots on target than Houston, two second-half goals scored seven minutes apart handed Houston the victory. The match was the first for OL Reign under the guidance of longtime assistant coach Sam Laity, who is serving in an interim role following the resignation of former head coach Farid Benstiti.