2017 NWSL preview: FC Kansas City
2017 NWSL Preview: FC Kansas City

After dropping out of the playoff race in 2016, the two-time NWSL champions will be looking to use the return of two USWNT stars to propel them back into the postseason.

This time last year

Last season was a frustrating one for FC Kansas City, although few of their woes originated from their play, which was as attractive as ever, if not as productive. Besides injuries and retirements, the Blues’ offense was irreparably hamstrung when two of their star players, USWNT forwards Sydney Leroux and Amy Rodriguez, both missed the entire 2016 due to pregnancy. Without them the team managed just 18 goals in 20 games and finished in sixth place, six points off the playoffs.

Off-Season

Since the end of last season, the Blues have rarely stopped for breath. The organization itself went through many changes. They were bought by Elam Baer, a businessman from Minnesota, and long-time general manager Huw Williams stepped down, replaced by Jean-Yves Viardin.

Becky Sauerbrunn is a rock on the Blues' backline (Source: Brandon Farris - Vavel)
Becky Sauerbrunn is a rock on the Blues' backline (Source: Brandon Farris - Vavel)

The Blues lost two players during the off-season, forward Caroline Kastor and winger and former US international Heather O’Reilly. Kastor retired just prior to the start of preseason, while O’Reilly signed with Arsenal Ladies in the FAWSL after retiring from international soccer. They also added a player, the versatile Rebecca Moros, who returned to the FCKC fold after spending a year with the Houston Dash. Moros, who was traded for FCKC’s third round pick in 2018, was part of the side that took home the 2015 NWSL championship.

From best to worst draft

When the dust from the 2017 NWSL College draft settled, consensus was that Kansas City had rocked it. Fast forward to April, when the final 20 player roster is unveiled and only one of the five drafted players, Christina Gibbons, made the final cut. So what happened in between? Toni Payne elected to sign with the Dutch club Ajax instead, Stephanie Ribeiro tore her ACL, and Rashida Beal and Alexis Shaffer were both cut during preseason. That left Gibbons, the fifth overall pick of the draft, as the only rookie on FCKC’s roster.

3-Prong Offense

The good news for the Blues is that the return of both Sydney Leroux and Amy Rodriguez will take the scoring pressure off of Shea Groom. Groom became the offense’s focal point in 2016 and didn’t disappoint, leading the team in scoring last year with eight of the team’s 18 total goals. She did well, but even so Kansas City struggled to score. With Rodriguez, a sharp-shooter at the pro level, and Leroux, an agent of chaos for opposing defenses, back in the mix, the FCKC attack should be much more dangerous and varied than last year. Rodriguez played in one game for the USWNT during NWSL preseason, indicating that she is probably closer to 100% than Leroux. Both are capable of being big contributors, but only time will tell how big of an impact they can have on the team. If all three click, Kansas City could be looking at a return to the playoff race.

Yael Averbuch (center) can play in the midfield or the backline (Source: Brandon Farris - Vavel)
Yael Averbuch (center) can play in the midfield or the backline (Source: Brandon Farris - Vavel)

Midfield built on versatility

With Leroux and A-Rod set to return, and two-time NWSL Defender of the Year Becky Sauerbrunn holding down the backline, he least secure of FCKC’s lines looks to be their midfield. The Blues have never quite patched the hole left by the retirement of 2013 NWSL MVP Lauren Holiday, and have filled it by committee, with Yael Averbuch, Desiree Scott, and Mandy Laddish having taken turns pulling the strings over the years. With no immediate replacement for Holiday available, the same will remain true this year, but the Blues do have a lot of versatility to call upon. Gibbons played every outfield position for the Duke Blue Devils and is equally capable of slotting in at wide back or midfield at the pro level. New Zealand international Katie Bowen has a similar skillset, and could be moved up to midfield after spending most of 2016 on the backline. 2016 pick-up Alexa Newfield can also play centrally or as a forward, and could see time in either role. Erika Tymrak, the 2013 NWSL Rookie of the Year is also an option. The dynamic winger won a championship in the off-season with Melbourne City FC in the Australian W-League.

Prediction

Although Kansas City were probably hoping to get more out of what looked to be a stellar draft class, they have still added more than they lost in the off-season. Add in the fact that they were still a tough team to beat last year, an extra four games in the regular season, and you’ve got a team that could be making a push for the playoffs.

Overall Placement: 4th

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