Preseason has arrived and is underway as clubs gather to prepare for the upcoming 2021 NWSL season. Kansas City NWSL, one of two new franchises in the league, have kicked off their first ever preseason camp. The tail of women's soccer in Kansas City is long and tortured. This franchise is the latest venture in Kansas City for NWSL, with the former FC Kansas City organization folding and moving to Utah back in 2017.
That organization, Utah Royals FC, under a larger umbrella of Utah Soccer LLC along side MLS, USL, and academy programs, underwent a transfer of ownership from Dell Loy Hansen to MLS after reports of racist language and toxic cultures within the work place surfaced.
The new KC NWSL ownership group led by Angie and Chris Long of Palmer Square Capital Management entered the picture to bring the Utah Royals player assets to a new expansion team in Kansas City. Due to the tight timeline ahead of the season, the team will operate under the KC NWSL moniker for their inaugural season, and play their matches at T-Bones Stadium -- the minor league baseball home of Kansas City T-Bones.
The preseason roster is largely composed from the former Utah Royals FC squad, and has several players with ties to the former FC Kansas City franchise. The player group is a mix of NWSL veterans, up and coming prospects, and international signings. Led by Head coach Huw Williams, the team will look to re-establish a new KC culture as they prepare to develop their own style on the pitch.
Formerly the General Manager of FC Kansas City, Williams's background and experiences in the Kansas City soccer community are strong attributes to help shape the teams future. The initial focus for the team in the early days of preseason has been evaluating players, fitness, and potential tactics.
"We're introducing basic new principles, and our game model. Our game style of play. Which will be to play possession soccer and pace," said Williams.
"That's what we've been doing for the last couple days. With the idea of, we challenge them to, how can you make your teammates look good? And clearly you make that teammate look good by providing options. Leaving a player alone on an island? That player is probably going to lose that ball, and that player is not going to look good. So the whole idea is now being available for the easy pass. So, along with that we're looking to evaluate the level of play. We're looking to evaluate the fitness levels, and at the same time, start to slowly improve on those fitness levels."
One thing we don't know
Where on the field will Kristen Edmonds play?Ahead of kicking off their preseason, KC NWSL made a trade with Orlando Pride, acquiring Edmonds in addition to the Pride's second-round pick in the 2022 NWSL Draft. In exchange, Orlando received midfielder Gunnhildur Jónsdóttir and the rights to midfielder Erika Tymrak.
An eight-year veteran of NWSL, Edmonds is an experienced player who has the capability to play across all lines on the pitch. Coach Williams believes she is one of his most versatile players, and as preseason progresses the picture may narrow on where exactly she will slot in, but for now she is KC NWSL's swiss army knife.
"Kristen Edmonds is a player that has impressed me for a long time. She's versatile. She can play up top, in a three forward line. She can play inside midfield if we go 4-4-2, and also has played the last year and a half or so as an outside back, so wide overlapping defender. So, having that ability, we see ourselves as a group that will be able to switch our systems to play within games even. So having that player that is able to do that will add to my flexibility tactically."
Three things we know
As the team continues to build over the course of its preseason trainings, Coach Williams knows one thing for certain, that veteran forward Amy Rodriguez will be wearing the arm band and captaining the team moving forward as she has been since her time with Utah Royals FC and FC Kansas City.
"Amy will for sure be our captain of the team, there might be another captain as well. We don't know how that will end up, but if you spent any time around Amy, just her energy is infectious. Just a personality, obviously, a veteran player, that has succeeded at the highest levels of this game, and she will for sure be a captain of that team, and a very important player too."
Midfielder Lo'eau LaBonta is entering her seventh year in the league, and is returning back to Kansas City after initially playing for FC Kansas City back in 2016. She returns to the midwest with seven former Utah Royals FC with ties to the former club as well, and through their experiences they're are looking to forge a new identity that is representative of Kansas City soccer.
Building new KC culture with former KC players: "I think it helps that we're already here in Kansas City so we're just further building off that. I think one thing that was great that we did in Utah too is, we came together a lot as a team with a bunch of stuff that we're doing off the field. So that just shows that people just aren't soccer robots. Like these girls here are true human beings, like they do care. One thing we've tried to already start in these first couple days, when you arrive, you're dabbing up everyone, masks are on obviously, but you're saying good morning. And whether you are a non roster player, a trialist, a veteran, or someone that's injured, everybody is saying hi. I think that's one thing that's already been an amazing characteristic to have on this team -- is that nobody's above anybody. We're all the same. We're all coming together. We all have the same goal across the field, let's bring it. So, I think that's one thing that we're already building up on, and even at the end, we're dabbing up each other again. Whoever wins or loses, if you're salty, whatever dab 'em up."
Establishing KC's style of play: "I'm definitely looking forward to what formation we're gonna play. I love a very specific one so I'm hoping we play one of those. Clearly this team is adaptable. We went from the Challenge Cup, playing with three in the back to the Fall Series playing with four in the back. So a lot of people can play in a lot of positions, so I'm not worried about that at all. What I love that we're trying to implement, which we also brought on with Natalia our assistant coach, is the tiki-taka-one-two touches that's my favorite style of play. We're already doing so many passing patterns and getting touches on the ball and it's so fun to see that already. I think we have the pace right now there, but we just got to get the quantity or quality a little bit better. But that that comes with being the first couple days of preseason and us not being together. They've already established what they want our goals to be, and I think people are already buying in."
Preseason will run through April as teams prepare for the upcoming Challenge Cup which will kick off on April 9 with the regular NWSL season kicking off on May 15. During the two month long preseason clubs will likely have scrimmage matches set up with local university and college sides should all appropriate COVID protocols be in place and pending league approval.
The preseason roster
The 30 player roster will eventually have to be narrowed down ahead of the Challenge Cup and the start of the regular NWSL season. The current preseason participants consist of players acquired through trades, offseason signings, non-roster invitees, trialists, and the NWSL draft. Midfielders lead the way with 13 players listed at the position.
2021 Kansas City NWSL Roster
Goalkeepers (4): Nicole Barnhart, Carly Nelson, Abby Smith, Tristin Stuteville (NRI)
Defenders (12): Rashida Beal (NRI), Elizabeth Ball, Katie Bowen, Rachel Corsie, Kate Del Fava, Kristen Edmonds (NYR), Taylor Leach, Michelle Maemone, Sydney Miramontez, Maddie Nolf, Gaby Vincent, Mallory Weber (NYR)
Midfielder (13): Meg Brandt (NRI), Courtney Claassen (NRI), Alli Hess (NRI), Jaci Jones (NRI), Lo'eau LaBonta, Chloe Logarzo (NYR), Taylor Lytle, Diana Matheson (FED-CAN), Addie McCain (CDP), Ashley Nick (NRI), Victoria Pickett (CDP), Desiree Scott (FED-CAN), Chestley Strother (NRI)
Forwards (11): Kaira Houser (NRI), Darien Jenkins (NYR), Jaycie Johnson, Mariana Larroquette (NYR), Brittany Ratcliffe, Amy Rodriguez, Arielle Shipp, Raisa Strom-Okimoto, Michele Vasconcelos, Cali Farquharson (NRI), Cyera Hintzen (NRI)
Key: CDP – 2021 NWSL College Draft pick, NRI – Non-Roster Invitee, NYR – Not Yet Reported to Camp, FED – 2020 Federation Player