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The Tea(L): The KC NWSL winless streak

Ten games into 2021, and KC NWSL has yet to win a game. What’s going on?

Kansas City v Portland Thorns Photo by Soobum Im/Getty Images

On Sunday, KC NWSL marked its tenth game without a win, which was unfortunate because goalkeeper Abby Smith had an incredible game, making five saves, including a penalty-kick block midway through the first half. But just as Smith had made heroic stops, a mistake in stoppage time in the first half allowed for Portland’s Simone Charley to score, giving the Thorns the lead for the rest of the game.

As exciting as it has been to welcome back an NWSL team to Kansas City, fans have not been able to celebrate a win. Since the start 2021 competition, including the four games of the Challenge Cup, KC has gone 0-7-3, with a 0-4-2 record in the regular season. As of writing, they are on a four-game losing streak and fourth game without a goal.

Even for an expansion team, that is an incredibly long stretch to go without a win and a goal. This is where we can begin to talk about why KC NWSL has reached this streak. Why has it been a struggle for KC NWSL to record a win?

We can give possible reasons: they’re technically an expansion team, but also they’re not, having inherited a roster from Utah, so they did not start from scratch with players. But KC does have a new coach and new playing style. I’m not sure we can use the ol’ expansion argument here because Racing Louisville is also an expansion team, and they are having a better start to the season, but they were able to build their roster through an expansion draft, so we’re back to square one.

So is it the roster? Kansas City inherited a Utah roster that did not have its stars that they did have back in the 2018 and 2019 days (think Becky Sauerbrunn, Christen Press, Kelley O’Hara), and even with a popular head coach like Laura Harvey and USWNT players, Utah did not make the playoffs in either year. In 2020, Utah was under a new head coach, who was eventually dismissed, and the organization as a whole was facing all kinds of troubles, leading to Royals FC ceasing operations. Utah, once it lost Sauerbrunn, Press, O’Hara, Harvey, spent 2020 rebuilding, as much as they could in a limited 2020. But at least Utah won a game in 2020, not many, but they celebrated a victory in 2020 over Sky Blue FC in the Challenge Cup. The Utah team also did not go ten games without a win.

It’s six months in, 10 games in, I’m not sure we can blame the current troubles on the inheritance of the roster because KC, just like Utah did in their first season, made moves to alter the roster and make it their own. There have been trades, bringing in Darian Jenkins and Kristen Edmonds and signings including Chloe Logarzo, Mariana Larroquette, and Jéssica Silva. KC also used the college draft to bring young players like Victoria Pickett and Kiki Pickett. Sure, Logarzo has been limited by an injury, and Silva is still adjusting to the team, but when they are on the field, their presence changes the dynamic. KC had a much better second half against Portland when both came into the game.

Is it the coaching style? As soon as KC NWSL was announced as a new team, Huw Williams was appointed as the head coach, and it made sense. Williams was a former FC Kansas City General and part of the FCKC leadership team that won back-to-back NWSL championships in 2014 and 2015, working with FCKC head coach, now USWNT head coach, Vlatko Andonovski. But the NWSL has evolved since then, making it the most competitive women’s league in the world. I’ve wondered why Kansas City did not take a couple more weeks to do a coaching search. Then again, there was a time crunch, and Williams is very well-known in the Kansas City community.

To be fair to Williams, he has not had a roster at its strength. There have been international breaks that have interrupted the starting XI, injuries (many of them), and unfortunate calls (like the goal called against Orlando). KC also plays a much better attacking style than Utah did, and the team is not losing by wide margins. Every game has been close, but KC continues to struggle to be clinical in the final third, and that eventually leads to the results they’ve had.

The games will not continue to get easier for Kansas City. This week, they’ll play first-place Orlando Pride on Wednesday, and third-place Washington Spirit on Saturday. They play the game for a reason, and we can’t count KC out because they play two top teams the week, and as the season goes on, perhaps KC will have a breakthrough.