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FC Kansas City season preview: Will the Blues repeat as champions?

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FC Kansas City season preview: will the Blues repeat as champions? What changes have they made?

Rookie Shea Groom could get some serious time during the World Cup
Rookie Shea Groom could get some serious time during the World Cup
Thad Bell

With a target on their backs all season, will the defending NWSL champions be able to repeat? Will the roster changes that FC Kansas City had to make cause a drop off, allow them to stay at the same level or maybe even improve?  Do the Blues have the depth to survive the extended absence of the National Team players during the Women's World Cup in June?

Let's take a close look at the roster and see if we can answer those questions.

GOALKEEPERS: The goalie tandem is strong, no worries for the Blues at this spot.

Nicole Barnhart: "Barnie" is a longtime U.S. backup and the obvious starter for the Blues. She seems to have fallen out of favor with the US over the last couple call ups and will probably not make the World Cup roster but still one of the best in the league and the world.

Katelyn Rowland: FC Kansas City got the backup keeper they wanted in the draft with Rowland. Joined camp late to finish up at school but quickly showed she can command her area when she arrived. Should provide some valuable relief through the tough Kansas City summer.

DEFENDERS: The thinnest position for FC Kansas City. With Nikki Phillips taking the season off to have a baby and Sauerbrunn probably called up for the World Cup, the Blues may be relying on a converted midfielder or two to fill the gaps.

Amy LePeilbet: Very experienced national team veteran missed the 2013 season for Chicago and had limited appearances for the Blues last season recovering from knee injuries. In preseason she has looked like her old self and was clearly one of the best players in camp, confident and commanding the back line. Having to rely on the veteran for the entire season has to give the coaches a few worries but if she is able to stay healthy it will be worth the first round pick they gave up for her.

Becky Sauerbrunn: Two time NWSL defender of the year but will miss a good part of the season for the World Cup. Her leadership and defending ability will be key down the stretch for another playoff run.

Becca Moros: They picked up the veteran from Portland to replace the traded Kallman. Moros is quick and likes to get forward and should have lots of opportunity to get in the attack. Becca wanted to come to FC Kansas City because of the Blues style of play. "This team is a great fit for me, the style, the organization, the discipline and the possession. It's pretty great as a defender when your team keeps the ball so it's an awesome feeling," Moros stated before the season.

Leigh Ann Robinson: One of the best outside backs in the league and she can play both sides with little difference. One of the veteran leaders, especially when the national team players are gone.

Domi Richardson: Former midfielder from Missouri is converting to center back for the Blues and has looked surprisingly good doing it but still has a lot of learning to go. Fortunately she has some great teachers around her.

MIDFIELDERS: The midfield corps took a hit when Jenna Richmond took the season off to get married and enjoy some family life but it is still an extremely strong group.

Lauren Holiday: One of the best all-around mids and her passing has setup many team mates. The US has been using her as a holding-mid but in league play expect to hear "Holiday to Rodriguez" a few times this year.

Heather O'Reilly: HAO as she is known to team mates was picked up to provide another experienced outside mid that can get up and down the field quickly.

Kaysie Clark: Rookie out of Missouri came on strong at the end of camp to earn a roster spot. One of the most decorated players from the Kansas City area and the coaches knew her well from when they coached her. In college could be the best player on the field for portions of the game. If she can show that ability in a consistent manner will she will earn some playing time.

Jen Buczkowski: The heart and the teeth in the midfield, "Buz" stops attacks and turns them the other way. One player you would want on your team if you hate to lose because she hates losing. Jen really should have gotten national team looks, especially considering their need for real d-mids.

Yael Averbuch: One of the most technical players in the league. Great skill but needs to show some bite in games.

Erika Tymrak: The 2013 Rookie of the year had a drop in offense last season but improved her defense and became a better all-around player. Look for Erika to step into the Holiday role during World Cup absences.

Liz Bogus: Never the flashiest player, Bogus hustles, plays hard and gives solid depth at mid and forward. Could even see some time at outside back if needed.

Mandy Laddish: Came into camp late last year after finishing school and never seemed to catch up. This year the local girl has a pre-season under her belt and is showing signs of why they drafted her. Could see some time at d-mid or attacking-mid this year.

Frances Silva: Another Kansas City girl that is in her second season. Got some time last year but could see a lot of time during World Cup to capitalize on how hungry she looks.

FORWARDS: With FC Kansas City's traditional 4-2-3-1 formation, it is hard for more than one forward to see the pitch at a time.

Amy Rodriguez: The second half of the "Holiday to Rodriguez" phrase that we heard so much last year. A-Rod took off 2013 to have a baby and was still getting in shape at the start of the 2014 and just got better as the year went on. Her goals in the playoffs carried the Blues to a championship and earned her new call-ups to the National Team.

Sarah Hagen: "Apple" is tall and talented and fighting for some time. She can play up top or out wide as well.

Shea Groom: Another Kansas City kid that has looked better and better throughout camp. The Blues first draft pick in 2015 (12th overall) was always their first target. If Shea continues to improve and learns to make some of A-Rod's runs down the defensive seam, she could make some people notice this year.

Reserves: This is a probable list since they have not announced officially.

Caroline Kastor: A forward from Kansas that has looked really good in camp.

Caroline Van Slambrouck: A defender from Kansas that could see time in the 18 during the World Cup.

Kaitlyn Stroud: A Kansas keeper that has looked decent in camp but will have a hard time making the field.

Nia Williams: Nia officially retired last season to take a teaching job but could make the reserve list for some defensive depth (when she is not in school).

Molly Dreska: Molly made the reserves from tryouts last season and played most of a game as well. Listed as a forward but can play almost anywhere.

Meghan Lisenby: The draft pick was released from camp to trial with another team but has returned and is looking to shore up the defensive depth.

Formations: Head coach Vlatko Andonovski has favored the 4-2-3-1 the first two years, using two holding-mids in front of the defense has allowed them to turn the play the other direction quickly. Expect them to experiment with a 4-4-2 diamond center at some point again and a 3-5-2 with the shortage of defenders is very possible as well.

New Stadium: As part of the partnership with Sporting Kansas City, FC Kansas City will be playing on the Championship field at Swope Park Soccer Village. The players are very happy to be on the tremendous grass surface (of the two best surfaces within 500 miles).

Outlook: With the core players returning; Barnie, Sauerbrunn, Buz, Holiday and A-rod, there is no doubt they will be competitive at full strength but as long as the defense stays healthy they should still match up well during the World Cup. With playing on the great grass surface at Swope Soccer Village expect some highlight plays from a talented attacking group.

Prediction: The Blues should be near the top of the table and make the playoffs again.