Kansas City NWSL women’s soccer team loses road game to Bethany Balcer-led OL Reign

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Just when it looked like KC NWSL was starting to hit its stride, the first-year women’s pro soccer team fell back into old habits and lost 2-0 at the OL Reign on Sunday evening.

The players from Kansas City (0-7-3) started off slow in Tacoma, Washington, and it cost them an opportunity to take home points against another team at the bottom of the league standings. KC had been aggressive from the opening whistle in recent games, but that early energy was largely missing Sunday.

OL Reign forward Bethany Balcer had the first multi-goal game of her young career. The first strike followed a goalkeeping mistake from KC veteran Nicole Barnhart: After receiving a back pass, Barnhart made a slow rolling pass to center back Kate Del Fava, who was facing the goal. Balcer came blazing in to intercept and hit it one time just three minutes in.

“Disappointed with how we came out,” KC coach Huw Williams said. “Put ourselves in a hole with a mistake we thought we’d solved. Obviously we’ve got to do a better job as a coaching staff to make sure players understand what we expect and need in that situation: Safety first is our principle ... obviously we did not do that, so (it’s) very disappointing.”

Balcer struck again in the 29th minute. Tziarra King slotted Sofia Huerta behind KC’s back line and crossed the ball for Balcer’s perfectly timed run. Balcer’s header made it 2-0.

It was the first win for Sam Laity, interim coach of the OL Reign (3-5-1).

“We know we made a couple mistakes, crucial mistakes, that we take ownership of and I wish that wasn’t the case,” forward Amy Rodriguez said. “I hate sitting here right now, a little bit with my head in my hands.

“We’re upset, we’re disappointed, because we know we’re a better team than what we showed today. We know we are building in a direction that did not reflect the scoreboard today.”

KC came out in the second half looking much more competitive, on the front foot and pushing the ball up the field. And a few quality chances resulted, including a counter-attack that started with defender Kiki Pickett intercepting a pass and ended with forward Jéssica Silva sending a ball across the box ... with no one there to clean it up.

“Coming back in the second half, that doesn’t do it, right?” Williams said. “We have to be ready for the whole game — the game’s 90 minutes. The mentality has to be good from the start, not in the second half when you’re already in a big hole.”

Silva went flying down the field for a ball in the 69th minute and was taken out by OL goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi — known for aggressive play off her line — just outside the box. Bouhaddi was handed a red card, the first time since 2014 a goalkeeper has earned a red in the NWSL. Kristin Edmonds was inches away from scoring off the ensuing free kick, which bounced off the post. Lo’eau LaBonta was all over the rebound but misfired.

The official originally signaled a penalty kick for Kansas City, but the call was then determined to be a free kick outside the box instead.

“In all honesty I have no idea if we should have had a penalty kick,” Williams said. “I do know that the referee gave a penalty kick and somehow for some reason a decision was turned where the assistant coaches on the other team (told) the referees to be looking at the scoreboard ...

“Didn’t know there was VAR In this league, and I think a new rule was started today because the decision was changed after It was made and it’s very disappointing.”

Silva came out a minute after the offensive shakeup she caused that nearly led to a goal, however she was fine injury and fitness-wise. Williams said Silva was taken out because they needed “players that could be more effective than she was” in the 72 minutes she played.

Barnhart, who struggled with the ball at her feet during the first 45 minutes, came up big after a shaky start. She made an excellent kick-save in the 38th minute to preserve hopes of a comeback and kept OL to two goals, though they had 20 shots, nine on goal, throughout the game.

“Right now, we’re not happy,” Williams said. “We know we’re better than this. We need to know and understand that we’re a team right now that can’t come out that way.”

Rodriguez said the team’s grit will be shown in how it gets through the low points of its inaugural season.

“We do keep getting knocked down over and over and over again, but one thing about this team is, we’re always getting back up, every single time,” Rodriguez said.

KC returns to Legends Field for a July 23 game against the NC Courage.

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