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All Decade team: FC Kansas City

Who should be on the All Decade team for FC Kansas City. There were some easy choices and some that were not so easy...

Thad Bell

Kansas City All decade teams.

1: Kansas City Comets

2: FC Kansas City

3: Sporting Kansas City (coming soon)

A short history of FC Kansas City

FC Kansas City was one of the original eight NWSL teams and it was a bit of a surprise when the franchise was awarded to the owners of the Kansas City Comets indoor team. All of the women’s soccer “experts” and “pundits” were shocked when Comets assistant coach Vlatko Andonovski was named the Blues first head coach. A few years later those same detractors have come around and were all in favor when he was announced as the new U.S. Women’s National team coach.

Like all the NWSL teams, FC Kansas City was allocated U.S., Canadian and Mexican national team players. FC Kansas City did not get the most well-known players. No Abby Wambach, Hope Solo or Alex Morgan from the U.S. or Christine Sinclair from Canada.

For Kansas City, that turned out to be just what Andonovski needed. Nicole Barnhart, Lauren Cheney and Becky Sauerbrunn from the U.S. and Desiree Scott and Lauren Sesselmann from Canada.

In Barnhart the Blues received a warrior in goal that did not bring the baggage of some more famous keepers. “Barnie” turned up game after game and made save after save, ignoring aches and pains that would have kept lesser players sidelined.

Sauerbrunn and Andonovski at a Comets game
Thad Bell

With Sauerbrunn FC Kansas City received a defender that was just coming into her best years. She was a regular with the USWNT but not always starting. With FC Kansas City she developed into one of the best, probably the best, defender in the world.

Cheney, one of the best midfielders in the U.S. got a chance to actually play again. Too often with the U.S. she was not allowed to be creative and use her talents. They even used her as a holding-mid which was incredible after watching her play as the creator, setting up teammates in the NWSL. Cheney had a good first season in Kansas City. She got married, became Lauren Holiday and credited Andonovski with her falling in love with the beautiful game again.

Desiree Scott was one half of the defensive mid pairing needed in the 4-2-3-1 that Andonovski favored. Matched up with free agent Jen Buczkowski, the Blues became a hard team to score on. Sesselmann was a capable defender at multiple spots and was utilized at center back and outside back as well.

The first season for FC Kansas City went well. The NWSL inaugural match was in Kansas City and FC Kansas City came up just short of having home field advantage throughout the playoffs/ They tied for first but was seeded in second place.

The NWSL annual individual awards were swept by FC Kansas City for 2013; Golden Boot to Holiday, Rookie of the Year to Erika Tymrak, Keeper of the Year was Barnhart, Defender of the Year was Sauerbrunn, Coach of the Year was Andonovski and MVP was Holiday.

In the first NWSL Playoff match the Blues took a 2-0 lead against Portland but came up short when they could not hold the lead. The Thorns scored a pair and then again in extra time to advance to the final.

Andonovski and assistant coach Huw Williams didn’t waste time improving their team. Trades for Amy Rodriguez who missed 2013 with the birth of her son and Amy LePeilbet who had also missed 2013 with ACL surgery. LePeilbet was still recovering for most of 2014 but was key to FC Kansas City success.

A-Rod (Rodriguez) was not only the scoring punch the Blues needed but she was also best friends with Lauren Holiday. Their chemistry off the field led to a great partnership on the field. That relationship and Andonovski’s coaching led A-Rod to make even more dangerous runs. Rodriguez ended up second in goal scoring with 13 while Holiday had 8 goals and 7 assists. Sauerbrunn again won defender of the year but this time the playoffs were the highlight.

FC Kansas City again hosted Portland in the first match but this time they came out on the good side. On a miserably hot day, temperature on the turf was approaching 160. In a call that had become familiar to FC Kansas City fans, Holiday fed Rodriguez for the first goal. Holiday added a late goal to secure a trip to the final.

A-Rod celebrating the first goal in the 2014 playoffs
Thad Bell

Going to face Seattle at home is never easy but they had led the league all year, never dropping out of first place and had +30 goal differential. This year Seattle had the most individual award winners with Kim Little winning Golden Boot and MVP and Laura Harvey as Coach of the Year. Volatile Hope Solo was runner up for Keeper of the Year with a league leading .9 goals against average and 5 shutouts. Barnhart led the league with 8 shutouts.

Andonovski and his team were not fazed or intimidated. They knew the Reign would be dangerous, and they would have to withstand a lot of pressure but it was Holiday to Rodriguez again that opened the scoring. A ball slid out wide to A-Rod who waited for the perfect moment for Solo to commit before chipping her in the 23rd minute.

Holiday would again setup A-Rod in the 56th minute. This time Holiday made the beautiful run, slicing Seattle’s defenders up before picking out A-Rod higher in the box who one timed it past Solo.

With a two goal lead, FC Kansas City held on. They brought on LePeilbet for just this moment and the World Cup veteran helped close the game out. Seattle’s Megan Rapinoe did score to make it close but a post and a crossbar may have helped but FC Kansas City won their first NWSL title.

The team had not even finished their post-game meal before Andonovski was already plotting how to win the next one. A couple discussions with players and Williams and the next key piece was in progress. It took a while but FC Kansas City landed U.S. legend Heather O’Reilly.

HAO was important in FC Kansas City’s second title run
Thad Bell

FC Kansas City struggled through the middle of the season and sent several players to the World Cup but not before Holiday had told Andonovski that she was going to win a World Cup and then another NWSL Championship. And then retire.

Holiday lived up to her prediction. The U.S. Women’s National team won the 2015 World Cup with four FC Kansas City players on the roster. Holiday, Sauerbrunn, Rodriguez and O’Reilly. They then returned to Kansas City and secured a playoff spot. This time they finished third so no home games.

First up was the Chicago Red Stars. Two goals from Rodriguez and one from Tymrak sent them to the final to again face Seattle.

Rodriguez was again the killer of hope (pun intended) for Seattle. This time it was Holiday to O’Reilly to Rodriguez for a header. The lone goal was all the Blues needed to become the first team to earn two stars.

The lows…(for the team)

Holiday fulfilled all of her predictions when she retired, she had won a World Cup and a second NWSL Championship. Now it was time for her to hang up her cleats and focus on family. She was pregnant and eventually needed surgery to remove a tumor after her daughter was born.

A-Rod applauding Holiday
Thad Bell

Rodriguez was also going to miss the 2016 season to give birth to her second child so FC Kansas traded for Sydney Leroux for some scoring punch. Leroux was married to Sporting Kansas City forward Dom Dwyer so there was some perfect synergy there. Perhaps too much synergy as she missed the season with pregnancy also.

Leigh Ann (Robinson) Brown and Amy LePeilbet hung up their cleats after 2015 as well and Jen Buczkowski only played a few games in 2016. There were huge holes in the lineup to be filled all over the pitch.

The lack of scoring punch and half the defense retiring were not the only issues for FC Kansas City that year. Ownership issues came to light with disputes over management, money and rumored inappropriate emails.

It was possibly one of Andonovski’s best managing jobs but the loss of Holiday, LePeilbet, Robinson, Rodriguez and Leroux was too much to overcome and FC Kansas City missed the playoffs for the first time.

The 2017 season was not much better. The league forced the sale of the team to a new owner who was not local. The new ownership and management were in over their heads. There was optimism initially with the new owners and the return of Rodriguez and Leroux but it did not last long.

The first match proved promising with a goal in the 7th minute from Leroux and then Rodriguez in the 48th to make it 2-0. That was the high point of 2017 as A-Rod was helped to the bench less than 10 minutes later with a knee injury and would not return for the rest of the season.

The new management did not even replace A-Rod on the roster until the league realized they did not have the required minimum of 18 active players several weeks later.

At the end of the season, the NWSL announced that FC Kansas City was ceasing operations and the players were being transferred to the “new” franchise in Utah. To add a modicum of insult to injury for Kansas City fans, the new Utah team was named the Royals.

The last team huddle after the last FC Kansas City match.
Thad Bell

All Decade teams:

So that was a much longer introduction than anticipated and is probably the seed of a longer article on the history of FC Kansas City. What was asked for, but a lot of freedom given in how they responded was for a gameday 18. Starters and bench.

Vlatko Andonovski

In case it was not clear from above, Andonovski went on to lead Seattle for a couple seasons before being named the new U.S coach by general acclaim from players, fans and those same media who laughed when he was first announced with FC Kansas City. (For the record, I am not one of them). U.S. Soccer made it official in one of their best hires in years.

Coach Andonovski was kind enough to give his Kansas City Comets All Decade team and FC Kansas City All Decade team. Again it was fascinating to listen to his discussion with himself on who should be on the team.

G Nicole Barnhart

D Becky Sauerbrunn, Amy LePeilbet, Leigh Ann (Robinson) Brown, Nikki (Krzysik) Phillips

M Jen Buczkowski, Desiree Scott, Lauren (Cheney) Holiday

F Erika Tymrak, Amy Rodriguez, Heather O’Reilly

Bench

Mandy Laddish, Becca Moros, Jenna Richmond, Shea Groom, Francis Silva, Kassey Kallman

Huw Williams

Williams was an assistant coach and General Manager for the first few years of the team. As famous as Holiday to Rodriguez should have been, Andonovski and Williams should be close. The two were both on the short list of head coaches but came into the interview together and were hired together. Andonovski and Williams bounced ideas of each other and then made those big dreams happen. Huw gave a short bench but his starters were the same as Vlatko.

G Nicole Barnhart

D Becky Sauerbrunn, Amy LePeilbet, Leigh Ann (Robinson) Brown, Nikki (Krzysik) Phillips

M Jen Buczkowski, Desiree Scott, Lauren (Cheney) Holiday

F Erika Tymrak, Amy Rodriguez, Heather O’Reilly

Bench

Merritt Mathias, Jenna Richmond, Kassey Kallman, Yael Averbuch

The Blue Crew:

The Blue Crew was the small and very passionate supporters group for FC Kansas City. They painted banners, they beat drums, they chanted and lived and died with this team. They were even threatened by an opposing goalie that did not like the chants that Barnie is the best keeper in the league. They had “hope” that the opposing goalie was just trying to be intimidating.

When I reached out to them on twitter, they were happy to respond. Kat McIntyre and Danielle Russell were the ones who conspired to give their All-Decade team.

“Ok. So this was very difficult because after everything, in our minds they’re all perfect and not including everyone in an 18 makes us sad. Even with that, there might be people in here that are more sentimental than anything.”

“I think Keane would probably be the most “explain yourself” pick. I think that its hard to have a backup keeper because Barnie dominated all 5 seasons. Rowland is the bigger name, but not necessarily the chance to show it off while playing for FCKC. Keane didn’t either, but the group of us that 2014 season really connected with her.”

“The last thing-some of the players we picked come down to interactions off the field as well as on the field performance. Its hard to separate for us. Again, especially since I think most of us have this idolized memory of those 5 years. Could be them talking to us themselves or us being able to spend time with friends and family. Obviously on the field performance matters a lot too.”

G Nicole Barnhart

D Kassey Kallman, Becky Sauerbrunn, Leigh Ann (Robinson) Brown, Amy Lepeilbet

M Desiree Scott, Lauren (Cheney) Holiday, Jenna Richardson,

F Amy Rodriguez, Heather O’Reilly, Shea Groom

Bench:

Sara Keane, Nikki (Krzysik) Phillips, Katie Bowen, Yael Averbuch, Erika Tymrak, Mandy Laddish, Frances Silva

Thad Bell

My starters are almost the same as everyone above with minor differences.

G Nicole Barnhart

D Becky Sauerbrunn, Amy LePeilbet, Leigh Ann (Robinson) Brown, Nikki (Krzysik) Phillips

M Jen Buczkowski, Jenna Richmond, Lauren (Cheney) Holiday

F Erika Tymrak, Amy Rodriguez, Heather O’Reilly

Bench

Yael Averbuch , Mandy Laddish, Becca Moros, Desiree Scott, Shea Groom, Francis Silva, Kassey Kallman

Why you ask?

Even if you don’t I can’t get this far in without explaining.

At goalie there is nobody else. Barnie is a legend and one of the best. A true team player and as mentioned above, a true warrior. She fought through injuries to always be there for her team.

For defenders there is no way that someone could not include Becky and Leigh Ann. Becky was one of the best in the world at the time and Leigh Ann was one of the best non-regular national team players (and possibly better) in the league and a great team leader. LePeilbet only played two seasons and was coming off knee surgery and had a lot of games under her belt but she was all class and so very good. Smart and composed. Rounding out the defense I have Nikki Phillips. Only one season for the Blues but was amazingly good on defense. Phillips and LePeilbet could both play centerback or out wide if needed so lots of versatility there.

Andonovski mostly played a 4-2-3-1 so the “2” is the hardest pick for me. Buz (Buczkowski) is there without a doubt. She was made of Iron and did a fantastic job shielding the defense. Who to partner with her was the question, Jenna Richmond or Desiree Scott both made good partners in that role. Dez the Destroyer earned that nickname for Canada and led the fans to have a “Fear the Headband” banner. Richmond was one of the many great players that left too soon. She won the NCAA Championship in 2013 and then won an NWSL Championship in 2014. I ended up going with Richmond despite her only playing one year. She had the good tactical sense and strong play (not as strong as the Destroyer) but seemed to be a better passer and on offense in general.

Next is the “3” of the 4-2-3-1 but in reality, it is just one. The other two can be lumped in at forward and for this one spot it can be nobody else but Lauren Holiday. The ability, the vision and the leadership made her one of a kind. While I am not in favor of soccer teams retiring numbers, it was understandable when FC Kansas City retired her number 12 and flew a 12 flag over the field. It was amazing to see her ability on the field as an attacker and them see the national team use her as a holding mid.

The two mid/wingers at least can have a little debate. Heather O’Reilly is one of them without a doubt. HAO is a legend with the national team. She brought a determination with her that helped FC Kansas City to a second title and kept them in games after all the retirements of 2015. On the other side I chose Erika Tymrak. It was a bit of a toss-up with Shea Groom. Groom is local and had more grit and was far more fierce than Tymrak but Erika at her best was a better dribbler and passer and came up big in the playoffs.

For the one center forward it can also be only one player. Holiday to Rodriguez should have been a regular call with the national team and was for two years with FC Kansas City. A-Rod was strong, determined and had a good shot. For the Blues, Amy Rodriguez was the best center forward they had.

On the bench it was hard to decide. I admit I am cheating a bit myself. I did not include a goalie on the bench. Katelyn Rowland was the best backup keeper FC Kansas City ever had. She was traded to WNY Flash/North Carolina so she could have an opportunity to play and she has done well. For FC Kansas city she did not do much though. The Blue Crew had Sara Keane on the bench but she also had little opportunity to shine in Kansas City.

So, if needed, the first bench player on the list will be my backup keeper. Congrats Yael Averbuch! Yael is a talented national team player who could fill in at many spots and was one of the most, if not THE most technically perfect player on the team. A great leader, a great person and she went on to help form the NWSL Players Association and is currently the Co-President.

Next up is Mandy Laddish. Local Kansas City player who struggled with some injury issues, otherwise she might have been on of the best box-to-box mids in the league right now. Still playing for Utah but missed a couple years.

Becca Morris is next. Mostly an outside back and if I was strictly following best positions would have probably been in the starting 11. Quick, loved to get the ball up the sideline and played some great games for FC Kansas City in 2015 and then again in 2017.

Desiree Scott I already discussed above, for most she would have been a starter and I will probably regret this decision.

Groom gave her all in every match
Thad Bell

Shea Groom was already discussed above. Will definitely challenge for starting time and first off the bench.

Francis Silva is another local player that contributed heavily to the early success of the team before leaving to find a job.

Kassey Kallman was another hard choice to not include. During her time with the Blues she was fantastic defender.

Biggest snub?

Perhaps it would be Merritt Mathias. She played well for FC Kansas City the first two years and has continued that with Seattle and North Carolina and earned a deserved look from the national team. Huw Williams included her but perhaps it was the incident with Shea Groom that left a bad impression for the rest of us?

Let us know who we should have included or excluded.

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