In order to ramp up our coverage of FC Kansas City and the NWSL, we are starting to do the same three question format that we do for Sporting Kansas City when possible. Tonight, FC Kansas City faces the Chicago Red Stars so we traded questions with James Gordon from Hot Time in Old Town, the SBNation site for Chicago.
These are James' questions for us and how I responded.
1. So last season, FCKC qualified for the playoffs with room to spare (finishing 2nd place with 41 points) and went on to win the whole shebang. Right now they're hovering on the playoff bubble with six games to go. Why do you think KC hasn't been able to match or exceed their regular season performance from last season? Has the team struggled? Or did the rest of the league just get stronger?
In 2013 FC Kansas City was successful because Lauren Holiday scored while Jen Buczkowski and Desiree Scott clogged the midfield and Becky Sauerbrunn cleaned everything else up. A few others contributed also.
In 2014 they were successful because Holiday set up Amy Rodriguez and she scored while Buczkowski and Jenna Richmond clogged up the attack and Sauerbrunn cleaned up everything else. And a few others contributed.
In 2015 they have been without Holiday, Rodriguez and Sauerbrunn most of the season and when they were there they still had a USWNT focus to them. Without them, for offense they had to rely on Erika Tymrak, Sarah Hagen and rookie Shea Groom. Tymrak and Hagen failed to deliver as expected while Groom did well, she needed some better balls consistently.
The answer is both. The rest of the league got stronger and FC Kansas City has struggled.
2. Amy Rodriguez was a huge part of KC's successful run last season, having posted 16 goals in 2014 (including both of Kansas City's goal in the Championship final). This season her shooting boots haven't been as explosive, having only one tally (although admittedly she's only made five appearances for the club). How important will A Rod be in terms of getting KC over the red line and into the playoffs? Who else in the squad do you feel needs to step up?
This answer is really a continuation of the previous question.
A-Rod has been on the verge of getting hot all year but just cannot get that spark started. That includes her time with the US as well as FC Kansas City. In St. Louis she rattled the post and crossbar so hard a couple times I am surprised they did not have to move the goal back to the right spot. She had been just wide, just high, too close to the keeper and sometimes way off. Even in Canada she was close but no goal.
Part of A-Rod's issue specifically and FC Kansas City's is that both her and Holiday had to play differently while with the US. Holiday had to play more box-to-box and d-mid style than her normal all out attacking mid role with the Blues. Rodriguez was typically one of two forwards for the US and was expected to create havoc and then get the ball to Wambach/Morgan/Press/Leroux also.
A-Rod was so effective last year with FCKC because of the relationship Holiday already had with her and then coach Vlatko Andonovski cultivated that connection to perfection.
Early in 2014 Rodriguez made a lot of direct runs and Holiday had to time the pass perfectly. Later in the season Andonovski had Rodriguez running parallel to goal along the defensive seams and Holiday could slide a ball into space without A-Rod being offside already and then Rodriguez could explode towards goal.
As mentioned above, Hagen and Tymrak were expected to step up but didn't fully and now they really need the Holiday to Rodriguez connection to awaken.
3. Imagine that someone fired some kind of Weird Science raygun at you and Vlatko Andonovski, forcing you two to switch bodies for a weekend. (I read a lot of vintage comic books, can you tell?) That means you need to lead the team out against the Red Stars. How would you prepare the squad? What would you tell them to look out for? What would your keys to success be?
Ok, yes that is a little bit of a weird way to ask the question but I like it.
FC Kansas city has been at their best in a 4-2-3-1 formation with that lone target forward and a couple strong d-mids parked in front of the defense. They have experimented with a 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield but that has had limited success but either of those would be expected.
I think they need a bit of a shake up, get them playing like it is fun again. I would probably try to surprise Chicago and put out an all attacking lineup for the first 15-20 minutes or so and then flip them back to a more normal formation.
I would switch it up into more of a 4-2-2-2 and play both Holiday and A-Rod at forward together and push Tymrak and perhaps Frances Silva underneath. I would also look at using Heather O'Reilly's speed out of the back. Let her play right back (moving Robinson to the left in place of Moros).
This would sacrifice the wide channels but hopefully Buz and Laddish could pin them and reduce shots while allowing FCKC to have a numerical mismatch centrally in the attack.
All in, go score goals, if we lose let it be a 7-6 game and not a 1-0 game. Hopefully that would get the offense a boost and used to scoring again but more likely it would get me (Andonovski) sent to a mental health professional.
These are the questions we sent to James and his response.
1. With so many players missing for the World Cup, what has been the secret to the Red Stars performing so well this season?
I think Rory Dames gets a lot of credit for building a squad capable of grinding out points even on nearly half-strength. The Red Stars lost eight players to the Women's World Cup (four of them played for the United States), which worked out to a little less than half the roster. Yet they went that entire period undefeated and remained at or near the top of the table. Christen Press has been absolutely crucial to the Red Stars' success, but in her absence players like Jen Hoy and Sofia Huerta totally stepped up. The back line has also been solid and managed to cope with the loss of folks like Abby Erceg well.
So the secret sauce isn't really that secret. Dames built a squad he thought could cope with the World Cup disruption, and the players went out and got the job done.
2. Now that you have Johnston (World Cup star now) Chalupny, Press and company back will there be (or has there been) any issues with integrating them back into the team?
So since the first Welcome Back weekend (when WWC players started filtering back to their clubs) the Red Stars played four games in a 13 day period. From those four games they stayed undefeated and grabbed 8 points from a possible 12. The most recent game, the 1-1 draw at Washington, saw a long-range stunner from Press that ensured they'd come home with a result. So, I'd say it's So Far So Good. I'm sure there were genuine concerns about reintegrating the World Cup players into the squad- especially Johnston, who came under some unfair media scrutiny, and Press, who I think didn't get as many minutes as she deserved- but there really don't appear to be any issues thus far.
We'll see how the last few games of the season go- KC is a massive test for this squad- but all things considered I think the Red Stars have handled the WC and the aftermath like champs.
3. Having finished out of the playoffs the last couple seasons, the fans must be excited to be in such a good spot with only a few games left. What are the expectations for the season and postseason from the fans? The players? Can someone from the Red Stars help the Fire?
The fans are SUPER excited about all this. The Red Stars fans, especially those in Chicago Local 134, have really been rewarded for sticking with the team through past struggles (including outliving the first three leagues they were members of). It's like they're able to say, "See everyone? We TOLD you they were awesome!" Meanwhile, Fire fans have been steadily drifting over to the team, with the Red Stars' winning ways proving to be a healing balm in the midst of their MLS team crapping the bed.
I can't speak for all fans but several that I've talked to seem to have fairly realistic expectations. This is our first playoff run in the NWSL, and our first since the 2012 WPSLE season. And they've only lost one game this season (so far). So I think whatever happens, barring some truly epic collapse in these last half-dozen games, fans will be genuinely proud of the squad at the end of the season. As for the players, I think however the season ends the important thing will be holding on to our big name stars. Folks like Press and Johnston really saw their stock rise this summer, and in order for the Red Stars to build on this season and stay competitive for the future- not to mention help make the club and league an attractive product for fans and advertisers- they'll need to do whatever is reasonably in their power to keep their big names in Chicago.
As for how the Red Stars can help the Fire... huh, wow. If I were feeling more cynical I'd say the Fire were beyond help, from anyone. Obviously I think someone like Press or Hoy would be a massive upgrade to the Fire's current attacking options, while Julie Johnston could probably walk into the team and immediately become #cf97's best defender. Off the pitch, I think the Red Stars and the Fire could do a lot more to build a business relationship with each other and do more mutually-beneficial cross promotion. As it stands, the Red Stars host one home game a year at Toyota Park, usually as a double feature with a Fire home fixture, and it's always in April (near the start of both of their seasons). I just don't believe that's good enough, and I'm not the only one who feels that way. I think if the Fire organization is serious about "owning the soccer conversation in Chicago," hitching their wagon to some proven winners in the Red Stars would go a long way toward achieving that goal.
Thank you James, good luck (except when you play Kansas City).