Heading into the 2017 National Women’s Soccer League’s fifth season, I think we can assure any FC Kansas City fans out there that they will have plenty to be excited about this season. For starters, two key playmakers will be returning to the offensive side while two important pieces on the defense will also be back in Blue. On the other hand, some of the departures from Vlatko Andonovski’s side could also have an impact on the club down the stretch.
Heather O’Reilly (M) – Perhaps one of the most consistent players to ever grace a pitch has gone overseas in the off-season to play out her life-long dream of experiencing European soccer. She has suited up for Arsenal Ladies and has made public any plans on whether she’ll be returning to FCKC at this time. Simply known as HAO to fans and media alike, O’Reilly gave 1000% every game, running down the flanks and providing service to her teammates. O’Reilly was truly a fan-favorite, always up for a post-game chat, smiling for fans who eagerly awaited just a glimpse of her up close. The gap filled won’t ever be completely filled, but for FCKC’s hope to get back into the post-season this year, they will need to figure out a way to compensate for her absence.
Amanda Frisbie (D) – Having only played two games in 2016 before being let go, the absence of Frisbie shouldn’t have a major impact on the defense or the team as a whole. She was waived and signed to Stjarnan Women for nine games before returning to the NWSL, signing with Boston for the 2017 season as a discovery player.
Caroline Kastor (F) – Kastor had been with KC since 2015, playing in eight games that season and made 15 appearances in 2016. She wasn’t a player that would necessarily stand out or make the big plays, but she put in the work and helped earn KC’s first championship in 2015 by doing her small part. Earlier this year in March, the Wichita, Kansas native announced her retirement from the NWSL and professional soccer.
Tiffany McCarty (F) – Since turning pro in 2013, the speedy forward has been with the Washington Spirit, Houston Dash, Nadeshiko (Japan) and in 2016 played 15 games for FCKC. The 26-year-old has since signed with Medkila, a club in the Toppserien league for Norway. Much like Frisbie, her absence will have little impact overall.
Frances Silva (F) – The tiny Venezuelan played for FCKC from 2014-2016, playing 33 times and scoring two goals. In 2015 Silva led the league in assists per minute played, averaging an assist every 145 minutes. Silva was fun to watch in open spaces and will be missed for her ability to distribute and create. In November of last year, Silva announced her retirement from professional soccer to pursue other interests. She currently is the Social Media Specialist for FoxSoccer.
Sydney Leroux and Amy Rodriguez (F) – Two of the quickest players in the game have returned after each missing last season due to pregnancy. Syd and A-Rod each will be relied upon to be the offensive firepower that was heavily missing in 2016. Leroux has moved around a bit, playing for Boston in 2013, Seattle in 2014, and moved to Western New York in 2015. She was brought to KC in a deal that involved two other teams–Houston and WNYF. Leroux got dealt to KC with Tiffany McCarty while WNYF acquired Jess McDonald in exchange for a 2016 and 2017 International roster spot and a 2017 second-round pick. She signed with FCKC in January of 2016 and has the potential to fulfill the scoring needs of FCKC. Leroux has scored 18 goals in her NWSL career and when combined with A-Rod’s impressive goal-scoring ability, these two could pack a serious one-two punch.
A-Rod has been with FCKC since 2014, playing in 37 games and scoring 26 times. She brings incredible energy and literally never stops running on the field. Rodriguez loves to pressure opposing defenses and has a knack for scoring goals when it really counts (most recently the 2015 NWSL Championship where she scored the game-winning goal). I expect both of these players to be the center of the offense and to score at least a handful of goals.
Becca Moros (D) – Moros returns to the Blues after spending one season down in Houston. She previously played for FCKC in 2015, anchoring part of that incredible defense that won the title that season. Moros will bring stability to the backline as well as veteran experience.
Christina Gibbons (M) – The rookie out of Duke was selected fifth overall in the 2017 NWSL College Draft. Gibbons played 88 games at Duke, netting 10 goals and 19 assists. I would love to see her earn serious minutes this season, she is a strong player and if she does well, could be in the Rookie of the Year conversation come August.
Not So Bright in 2016:
In 2014 and 2015, FCKC were unstoppable and shined the brightest out of all teams in the NWSL. 2016 was a bit dimmer. FCKC had a less-than-ideal start to the season, not earning the first win until May 28; well under the expectations after winning back-to-back championships in 2014 and 2015. In 2016 they earned just seven wins, eight losses, and grabbed five draws. FCKC did finish the season strong, winning three games in September and taking a draw.
FCKC struggled offensively, managing just 18 goals – no one player reached double digits in goals. It’s no secret that Vlatko is a defensive minded coach, but they just simply didn’t execute enough on the other end. The midfield last season had trouble combining with the forwards and when you add the lack of finishing when they did finally connect, Kansas City just wasn’t sharp enough offensively. The Blues had seven different goal-scorers but three players contributed just one goal in 20 games. It was an extreme drop-off in production from the previous year where they had 13 different goal-scorers and had the second-most goals with 32.
The Veterans Return:
The only two-star team in the league has several players returning who will be consistent starters: Becky Sauerbrunn, Nicole Barnhart, Yael Averbuch, Shea Groom, Erika Tymrak, Mandy Laddish, and Desiree Scott. On the defensive side with Broon, Barnie, Katie Bowen, and Averbuch, I expect them to continue to be solid this season but they also need to find which combination of personnel will work best. Last season they didn’t have a consistent backline. They added in Averbuch but technically she is best in the midfield. She should be someone who is in the attacking third, not sitting on the backline every game. We can expect polished work from Barnie and Broon, two players who are still under-appreciated in my opinion but deserve serious praise for the work they’ve put in. Yael is always a threat on set-pieces and can help FCKC in the scoring department occasionally.
Adding in Moros will help with finding the right chemistry. I think the more Bowen plays on the outside, the more she could be a factor for the offense. She scored in pre-season action against Missouri at the end of March and looked ready to do some lifting on the offensive side of the ball. FCKC do have one of the older backlines, so we will see how that comes into play later on in the season. All of these core veteran players need to have a bounce-back year after finishing sixth and missing the playoffs last season.
In the midfield, they have a talented bunch with Tymrak, Scott, and Laddish. These three are all under 25 years-old and have been playing very well since arriving in KC in 2014. Each will also need to step up their play from last season.
Tymrak had a very quiet year, scoring just one goal in 15 appearances compared to scoring eight goals combined the two previous seasons. She has the talent to take on a defense and make things happen. If she can find a way to tap into her potential a little bit more, she could be one of the top scorers for the Blues.
Scott is known for her ability to win the ball and is a physical player. She is another player who I feel is a bit underrated for the work she puts in. Between these three players, just one goal was scored, which will be unacceptable this season if they want to get back to winning ways.
Laddish has contributed one goal in 18 appearances for Kansas City but her stat sheet doesn’t need to be filled up for fans to appreciate the hustle she puts in every time she is called upon. She has the potential to add a few more if she can receive the ball in the right spaces for her to pull the trigger. The partnership of the midfield will be one to keep an eye on early on, to see who is clicking.
Groom’s The Way:
If you’re a fan of FCKC, you should be happy that Shea Groom is back for 2017. Groom was the top scorer for the Blues last season with eight goals, a career-high for her. She led the way for an offense that clearly was not what it used to be. But after adding a few key pieces in Syd and A-Rod I think the offense could return to the compelling threat it was in 2015.
Overall, I have Vlatko and company finishing fifth in the table but with this roster, I also would not be surprised if they managed to squeak their way back into the playoffs somehow.
2017 FC Kansas City Roster
GOALKEEPERS (2): Nicole Barnhart, Cat Parkhill
DEFENDERS (7): Alex Arlitt, Yael Averbuch, Katie Bowen (INTL-NZ), Becca Moros, Brianne Reed, Becky Sauerbrunn (FED-USA), Brittany Taylor
MIDFIELDERS (6): Christina Gibbons, Lo’eau LaBonta, Mandy Laddish, Alexa Newfield, Desiree Scott (FED-CAN), Erika Tymrak
FORWARDS (3): Shea Groom, Sydney Leroux (FED-USA), Amy Rodriguez (FED-USA)