Diving to her right, A.D. Franch pushed away a screaming half-volley toward the bottom corner of her goal. The shot initially deflected, she sprang back up and cradled the bobbling ball.
The Kansas City chapter of the American Outlaws roared approval from the north stand of Children’s Mercy Park — territory usually occupied by Sporting KC’s supporters’ section, the Cauldron.
For the American Outlaws, the avid supporters group that follows the U.S. national soccer teams to matches around the country, it was a chance to cheer their keeper’s save — for Franch, her first official save in her first hometown start for the U.S. Women’s National Team.
Franch, who hails from Salina, Kansas, and plays for the KC NWSL club, earned the start and drew cheers throughout her performance as the USWNT tied the Korea Republic 0-0 Thursday night.
“KC showed up as I expected them to, and hopefully that continues for the women’s game and KC WoSo right now,” Franch said. “That’s what we want in this city as we’re continuing to try to get a (World Cup) bid here in the city. I think it’s important to recognize that the fans are here and this city is something special to play for and I’m excited to be here to do that.”
The tie extended a 61-game unbeaten home streak for the U.S.
Franch made just the one save, in the 35th minute on a shot by Sel-Gi Jang, but it was the only one required of her. Korea never mounted much of an attack on the American goal.
The game also marked a special first for USWNT coach Vlatko Andonovski, who directed a national team game in his hometown of Kansas City for the first time.
“I feel like anywhere I turned, I knew someone,” Andonovski said. “It was good and I’m glad I put up a good show. I just wish that we paid this wonderful crowd back with a good win, but I promise next time we come back here we’ll score a few goals.”
The final score was no doubt closer than he would’ve liked against an opponent ranked 18th in the world. But a USWNT starting front line that featured such U.S. heroes as Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath and Alex Morgan was unable to break down the stout Korean defense.
“These are the type of opponents and games that we’re looking forward to playing because they create different challenges and multiple challenges throughout the game,” Andonovski said. “It will take the best of us to solve the challenges and overcome them.”
Most of the Americans’ pressure on Korea’ came from the U.S. midfield, especially from Lindsey Horan, who was honored for making her 100th national team appearance before the game.. At one point she sent a 20-yard curler off the left post; six minutes later her close-range header was saved by goalkeeper Young-Guel Yoon.
Both Heath and Rapinoe were replaced at halftime by the USWNT “new guard” of Sophia Smith and Mallory Pugh. Fifteen minutes into the second half, Morgan, too, was subbed out in favor of Carli Lloyd, who played in her penultimate game for the U.S. She has announced that she’ll retire at season’s end.
The decision to take Rapinoe and Heath out of the game was pre-planned, Andonovski said. Heath was coming off a weekend game with her club team, Arsenal, while Rapinoe is still working her way back from an injury.
Smith added an exciting dimension to the U.S. front line with an aggressive and attack-minded edge.
“She’s a lot more offensive-minded and more direct with her runs, and more specific with her runs, and we’ve seen that ever since she came in,” Andonovski said.
While Andonovski treated the game as more than just a retirement tour for Lloyd, many among the sellout crowd of 18,467 came to see Lloyd play here one last time. That much was evident in the roar that arose when she entered the game and every time she touched the ball near the Korea box.
The 39-year-old forward had an excellent chance in the 76th minute, but it was saved by Yoon.
The USWNT’s second-half trio of attackers — Smith and Pugh, in particular — looked more creative than their first-half predecessors. But they were no more successful in manufacturing a winning goal for the KC crowd.
“Our final product was poor and I think we could have done better,” Horan said. “My header was crap. But still, credit to her (Yoon, the Korea Republic keeper).
“I kind of look at our team and think that there were some final passes that we could have gotten on the end on, but she did a great job today.”
The USWNT can make amends Tuesday against Korea in St. Paul, Minnesota. That game will be Lloyd’s 316th and final game for her country.