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Match Preview: KC NWSL begins 2021 Challenge Cup @ Portland

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KC NWSL begins the Challenge Cup against the Portland Thorns at Providence Park.

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Photo: Thad Bell - The Blue Testament

Match Details

KC NWSL (0-0-0)
@ Portland Thorns FC (0-0-0)

When: Friday, April 9 | 9:30 PM CT

Where: Providence Park | Portland, OR

Live Stream: Paramount+

The return to the NWSL

For the first time since 2017, Kansas City fields an NWSL team and opens its 2021 Challenge Cup campaign against the Portland Thorns. It will be a major test for a team that expanded in December 2020 after Utah Royals FC ceased operations. KC inherited 19 of Utah’s players, seven who return to Kansas City from the previous team, FC Kansas City. The team is also under new leadership, head coach Huw Williams, who served as General Manager and Assistant Coach of FC Kansas City from 2012-2016. Williams helped FCKC win back-to-back NWSL Championships in 2014 and 2015.

As much as the focus can be on the past, the KC NWSL team has worked the past four months to build its own identity and purpose. Playing with the KC crest this season, while the club develops a permanent name and brand for future seasons, KC NWSL looks to enter the 2021 Challenge Cup determined and confident.

Portland Thorns: Not an easy first opponent

Team Captain Amy Rodriguez described this year’s squad as hard-working, gritty, and determined, and it’s three characteristics the expansion team will have to show as it faces the two-time NWSL Champions, the Portland Thorns. Though the Thorns will be without key players Becky Sauerbrunn, Christine Sinclair, Crystal Dunn, and Lindsey Horan, who are all missing the first game due to international duty, head coach Mark Parsons will rely on his young squad, including players like Sophia Smith, who has been called to US National Team camps in the past, and Simone Charley.

Key players or not, Portland is always a dangerous team, especially at Providence Park. For the first time since the October 2019, the Thorns will welcome back fans. The Oregon Health Authority has approved a 25% capacity, which means up to 6,300 fans can attend.

KC NWSL: How prepared is the team?

It’s not always easy to start anew. Though 19 of KC’s players have been playing together since the Utah days, they are under a new head coach, who has commended the squad on their hard work during the preseason. In Thursday’s media call, Williams said that the team was tactically ready to face Portland, studying their style, and willing to adjust to the Thorns as needed.

For the team to be successful, KC NWSL has to be ready offensively. A few weeks ago, the team was having trouble finishing, but Williams expects forward Amy Rodriguez to lead the attack and score goals. Though the responsibility is on A-Rod to score goals, Williams wants his players to push up on the field and for the outside backs to contribute to the attack.

How successful Williams’ game plan is going to depend on the players on the field. KC NWSL has a concerning NWSL injury report heading into its first game. Jaycie Johnson, Darian Jenkins, and Elizabeth Ball did not travel to Portland. Katie Bowen and Lo’eau LaBonta are questionable, and KC is without international players Desiree Scott, Jordyn Listro, and Mariana Larroquette.

Projected Line Up: 4-3-3
Smith (GK)
Edmonds, Corsie, Del Fava, Maemone
Nolf, Vincent, Pickett
Vasconcelos, Rodriguez, Ratcliffe

Prediction: Too hard to predict without seeing the squad play, to be honest. The majority of this projected starting line up looks like Utah Royals FC, and this was a team that struggled to score goals, especially against a team like Portland, but Williams is an incredibly smart coach and will find a way to motive the squad to break through the Portland defense.

Best case scenario: KC NWSL leaves Portland with a point.