In this weekly series, I will be highlighting a player from the weekend who was their respective team’s unsung hero, win, lose or draw. 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 midfielder Lo’eau LaBonta.
The 24-year-old playmaker seems to have found a home with the Blues. After a solid college career at Stanford, she was drafted 37th overall by Sky Blue in the 2015 College Draft. After making six appearances for the New Jersey Club, the California native was let go, only to be signed by FCKC in 2016. Now in her second season in the Midwest, LaBonta has earned a starting position with head coach Vlatko Andonovski utilizing her at forward, holding mid and now at attacking mid. LaBonta has played and started in 13 games this season, quietly improving while at the same time finding her confidence.
Kansas City 2-2 Boston:
Right off the bat, LaBonta worked her way onto my radar in the sixth minute. Commanding the middle of the field, she took the space racing towards the Boston box and slid a perfectly weighted ball to Shea Groom. Groom, in turn, got a toe-poke in but the ball went just wide of the goal. I love the energy LaBonta started the game with, showing on this particular play that she can make those kinds of passes in tight spaces.
One minute later, LaBonta and Groom connected once again, a partnership that would be on display all night. In the final third, Labonta dropped a ball over the top of the Breakers defense, in a spot that only her teammate could get to. Groom’s attempt went wide for the second time, but the two players were already setting a tempo for the game, which is important for any team to do, especially when on the road. The tiny and talented midfielder’s passing is an area of her game that is a joy to watch, and her vision has been a key part of her continuing development.
In the 17th minute, LaBonta fought for the ball, daring the backline of Boston to step in, make a decision, and take a risk. She won possession against Julie King just 20 yards from the Breakers goal, and somehow managed to provide service from a wide position. Her effort found Brittany Taylor, whose shot, unfortunately, went wide. At this point, Kansas City was getting all the right opportunities but not finishing the way they need to. Still, LaBonta was on fire, and the fight against King and service into Taylor was a nice example of LaBonta’s aggressiveness and ability to pressure an opponent and win the ball anywhere on the field.
That pressure paid off for Kansas City just a few minutes later, when Christina Gibbons found Maegan Kelly, who tapped the ball in for the go-ahead goal in the 20th minute.
LaBonta would push the ball forward in the 24th minute, taking space once again in the middle of the park, this time drawing two Boston defenders with her. She sprayed a pass out wide to Taylor who sent it to the back post looking for Kelly. For the fourth time in under 25 minutes, the Kansas City shot went wide. It was positive to see the attack clicking but at the same time, not finding the back of the net was giving viewers some serious deja vu.
Boston would respond in an empathic way thanks to New Zealand international Rosie White, who scored a brace in a span of 4 minutes (26’, 30’) to take the lead.
But despite Boston’s quick scoring, the first half was so encouraging for Kansas City, with LaBonta leading the way on the offensive side of things. She facilitated, created opportunities, pressured the backline, and really set the tone for the game.
One of LaBonta’s last contributions was in the 65th minute (she was subbed out in the 70th minute). All night we saw her make magic in the middle but on this play she found space on the wing and took a chance on stretching the Breakers backline one more time. LaBonta received a floating ball from Groom and pushed it deep towards the corner flag but Amanda Frisbie recovered in time to take it away and give Boston possession.
In her 70 minutes, LaBonta was the best player for Kansas City. Her quality really showed on the night, and she did her part in so many ways. It’s clear that she has put in the work in the off-season to get to this level of play and to maintain it as well through. LaBonta has become an important player for the Blues and I have a feeling she will have much more to offer as time goes on.
The Blues did manage to find the equalizer in the 81st minute thanks to Erika Tymrak, whose effort secured a point in Boston. The Breakers sit in eighth place with 15 points while Kansas City are currently in 10th with 14 points.