The NWSL kicks off what many consider to be their historic fourth season. No other top level women's league lasted more than three years so there is room for optimism around the league. Slow, steady, keep costs low and build sustainability has been the plan so far. With Portland, Houston and now Orlando having ties to MLS there is expectations that more teams will be linked with MLS when the league expands in the future.
FC Kansas City is the only team to make the playoffs all three years and they are the defending champions for the second straight year. Head coach Vlatko Andonovski has been consistently praised for the way his team like to possess, pass and build up the play.
Players out: Lauren Holiday, Leigh Ann Brown (Robinson), Amy LePeilbet and Liz Bogus all retired. Rebecca Moros and Sarah Hagen were traded and Kaysie Clark left for other opportunities.
Players in: Brittany Taylor, Tiffany McCarty and Amanda Frisbie were brought in through trade. Alex Arlitt, Brianne Reed, Katie Bowen and Alexa Newfield were drafted. Desire Scott was re-allocated.
Players on the pregnant list: Amy Rodriguez and Sydney Leroux. When FC Kansas City found out that A-Rod was expecting her second child they traded for Leroux. Shortly after the trade it was discovered that Syd was also expecting.
Goalies: Nicole Barnhart, Katelyn Rowland - Barnie was the long time backup keeper for the national team and while she was always one of the best in NWSL, she was beat up from year-round play. With having some time away from national team camp, Barnie is looking as good as she has in years.
Defense: Becky Sauerbrunn, Brittany Taylor, Amanda Frisbie, Katie Bowen, Brianne Reed, Alex Arlitt - Sauerbrunn has been paired with a different partner each year but still managed to win defender of the year for all three NWSL seasons. Expect to see a lot of flux in the back line but Sauerbrunn should keep the defense as one of the best in the league. Taylor is a solid veteran brought in to help out the backline. Very possible that Bowen will start once she joins the team after graduation.
Midfielders: Alexa Newfield, Desiree Scott, Heather O'Reilly, Jen Buczkowski, Mandy Laddish, Yael Averbuch, Erika Tymrak, Frances Silva - A talented, tough and tenacious group that would look good if not for the question of can anyone step up to be the playmaker now that Holiday has retired. Scott and Buzz (Buczkowski) are paired up again and should be a fantastic shield in front of the defense. Laddish was often a d-mid last year when she staked her claim to a starting spot, expect that she might be used in more of a box-to-box role as the Blues adapt. O'Reilly is sure to start when available and Tymrak as well although she might see some time up top.Silva will be fighting for time in there as well.
Forwards: Shea Groom, Caroline Kastor, Tiffany McCarty - While everyone mentions the loss of Holiday, her favorite target A-Rod out wile expecting puts the Blues in bit of danger. In all probability Groom will get the bulk of starts. She played well last year but she will need to stay healthy and the forward list is not deep. Kastor can give some speed and tenacity but has not proven she can score at the this level yet.
Why they will not repeat as champions - It will be repeated in virtually every mention of FC Kansas City this year about how many key players are gone. Holiday, LePeilbet, Robinson, Rodriguez all gone. What team could recover from that much loss without a huge budget and we know that does not happen in NWSL. Throw in other teams have strengthened and the fact that it is hard to repeat and chances are grim. Heck, Andonovski might deserve coach of the year if they almost make the playoffs.
Why they will go all the way again - A back line anchored by the best defender in the world (even though FIFA never realizes it) will take you a long way. Add in several players have the potential to have real breakout years (Laddish, Groom, Tymrak) and O'Reilly might have a chip on her shoulder to show Ellis how good she can be when she plays. If Andonovski can get them to the playoffs then you know Seattle will already be nervous.
On replacing players like Holiday and Rodriguez
"It's tough when you lose players like Amy Rodriguez and Lauren Holiday but I think we have a core group that has been with this team for so long that they understand the philosophy. So even though we don't have those players anymore, we do have players that I feel very can fill in those spots and play to the standards that FC Kansas City has set over the last couple seasons." - Becky Sauerbrunn
"You can't replace Lauren, she is one of a kind and what she brought to this team is something special. I don't know if we are going to try to replace Lauren, I don't know if our system will demand to replace Lauren. We are definitely going to work things around so we don't have to try to replace Lauren." - Vlatko Andonovski
"I feel very strongly that other players have stepped up, Mandy Laddish is going to be huge for us this year, Jen Buzcowski for as long as she is with us. I do think there are players like Yael (Averbuch), like Brit (Taylor), players that are true professionals that will come into their own and fill in for those that are gone." - Becky Sauerbrunn
On how preseason wentand how it prepared the team
"It's been slightly different but not too much. There are certain things we wanted to go over in preseason. Obviously we have to get physically ready and we try to instill our style of play tp the new players and the players that have already been on our team that is something we do not have to worry about. Most importantly we need to get the connection, that bond and have the team gel." - Vlatko Andonovski
"We won't know until we get out there and like last season we kind of struggled at the beginning but we found our stride. You never know how the season is going to start but we are working as hard as we can, preparing as much as we can. We feel good, coming back in I can see players that at the beginning of preseason that didn't really fit into our philosophy are really now starting to find their own and everyone get on the same page." - Becky Sauerbrunn
"You can even see it when we do 5v2 at the beginning, you can see players are quick with their touches, their decision making and that translates into our passing patterns and into our games. It's awesome to come back and see everyone has taken so many strides." - Becky Sauerbrunn
On returning to FC Kansas City
"I always loved this club, it's where my professional career began. A great group of people, great organization, great coaching staff that allowed me to build confidence and enjoy the league here. I spread my wings in England, had two seasons there and enjoyed my time there and now it is time to come a little closer to home." - Desiree Scott
"Yeah, I love as soon as I leave they win two championships. It's great!" - Desiree Scott
"They have that core commitment about them to live on the ball and be that possession team which I want to improve in my game and hopefully add to here. I think it's just about the confidence and going for that third championship." - Desiree Scott
On why she left
"In everyone's career you want to try something outside of your comfort zone and me being a home body and England being across the pond as they say, I wanted to do something different." - Desiree Scott
On what to expect from her
"I am trying to destroy both way as they say, I don't want to be only a defensive mindset. I want to help build the attack and get involved in that way." - Desiree Scott
On being the apparent main forward
"I'm excited. I've played forward for most of my life so it's fun to get back in the middle up there." - Shea Groom
On how playing with the U23 team helped her prepare
"Definitely, playing at that level with that caliber of player that prepares you pretty well for this level and it was exciting to go to a new place, Croatia, score some goals and get in game mode. I think I was feeling really prepared coming back to the states and start jumping right into preseason, being at a good place confidence wise." - Shea Groom
On playing with pressure
"You're always going to feel a little bit of pressure as athletes, as professional soccer players, but that is what I live for. That is the exciting part, the new challenge. I am excited more than anything and I know my team mates are going to pick me up and hopefully we are going to have an epic season just like last year." - Shea Groom