In this weekly series, I will be highlighting a player from the weekend who was their respective team’s unsung hero, win or lose. A player who does the dirty work, does the little but important things in a game and someone who didn’t exactly fill up the stat sheet but found other ways to contribute.
This week I’ve chosen FC Kansas City defender Becky Sauerbrunn.
The 31-year-old has been with FCKC since the first year of the club’s existence back in 2013 and has appeared 57 times. And for all that time, the Blues captain has been one of the most underrated and underappreciated players in the women’s game. Everyone knows she’s good, but people don’t quite seem to get just how good she is. Commonly referred to as Broon by fans and media alike, she is quiet, steady, reliable, and hard-working: the sort of player any club or country in the world would love to have.
FCKC 0-0 Portland
Kansas City and Portland each had significant players out due to injury, with Tobin Heath still out for the Thorns and Desiree Scott being added to FCKC’s lengthy injury list. Knowing this, I gave Portland the slight advantage going in. I also had a feeling that it would be a defensive battle, as each team has only given up three goals in five games, tied for best in the league. Portland obviously has a dangerous club on paper, led by Christine Sinclair with a star-studded supporting of Nadia Nadim, Allie Long and Amandine Henry, and more. But Sauerbrunn and her backline held each of these players in check and as a team, Portland mustered just 9 shots total with only two on goal.
Sauerbrunn just doesn’t let anyone get by her. She is calculating, organized and extremely patient in her play. Broon doesn’t have a ton of speed, but has a way of positioning herself to more than make up for it. Where many players would need to race somewhere at top speed, she sees things developing and puts herself in position well in advance of the play. She also rarely gives up free-kicks in dangerous areas, a testament to her awareness and here calm style of play.
An example of her ability to read the game so well was showcased in the 15th minute. Portland were on the quick counter with Haley Raso and Sinclair charging forward into the Blues’ final third. Sauerbrunn tracked 30 yards to snatch a pass that Raso was looking to thread in for Sinclair, cutting off the threat and sliding a cool pass to her keeper Nicole Barnhart. If Sauerbrunn hadn’t read that pass and timed her interception perfectly, Sinclair would’ve had plenty of green in front of her for an enticing 1v1 with Barnhart.
When watching her play, it’s almost as if Sauerbrunn has a magnetic connection with the ball, stopping passes through the middle, long balls over the top, and tough crosses alike. She leads the NWSL with 36 clearances, and you could see plenty of them this weekend. Overall, Portland has a height advantage over FCKC, but every time the ball was served in, Sauerbrunn and Yael Averbuch rose above the crowd to head it away.
While the offense continues to struggle, it’s safe to say that Sauerbrunn and her defense are already in mid-season form.
The captain moves so gracefully around the pitch and her tackling ability is just as pretty to witness. One instance of it came in the 49th minute, Portland again were on the counter. This time it was Lindsey Horan and Raso executing the break. Horan drew three FCKC defenders to her as she charged into the middle of the 18-yard box. She sprayed a pass to her right that found Raso 10 yards from Barnhart, and wide open. But she wasn’t open for long, because Sauerbrunn raced to cover the space and then executed a clean tackle on Raso who must have been stunned to see such a good opportunity snuffed in the blink of an eye. It was a remarkable tackle, and one that I’ve seen her make hundreds of times.
And that’s the essence of Sauerbrunn. She does the amazing so often that we grow accustomed to it. But we shouldn’t let that consistency dull our perception of her brilliance.
Sauerbrunn is constantly working on her game and sharpening her skills, and in my opinion, she has become the best center back in the women’s game since stepping onto the world stage in 2008 for the United States Women’s National team. If Sauerbrunn and FCKC can continue this solid defensive play while somehow finding a match to ignite the attack in the coming weeks, Kansas City could very well make it back to the playoffs this year.