The Kansas City Current played their first home match of the 2022 NWSL Challenge Cup. To say things didn’t go as planned would be an understatement. The team lost 0-3 to Racing Louisville, who up to that point hadn’t won a game in this tournament. Despite the result, there are reasons for optimism. So let’s get to some observations from the press box on Saturday.
Let’s Talk Formation
The broadcast called it a 4-3-3, which it absolutely wasn’t.
Instead, it was clear to me (and backed up by The Blue Testament community member Chzbro in the match thread), they were in a 4-2-3-1. The defense in the image above is correct: AD Franch in goal, Hailie Mace at LB, Alex Loera at LCB, Jenna Winebrenner at RCB and Kristen Edmonds at RB. Desiree Scott was in the midfield, but was flanked by Chardonnay Curran in a double pivot.
The three advanced midfielders were Kristen Hamilton (LM), Lo’eau Labonta (CAM) and Victoria Pickett (RM). Addie McCain was playing striker.
Now the formation was fluid. Hamilton would go up top at times (and the team looked it’s best when she was there because McCain is a midfielder, not a striker — though maybe she could play second striker). All three advanced midfielders rotated around a bunch, with that group maybe looking their best with Pickett at the 10.
The problem is there are a lot of these girls who want to play centrally, so the formation didn’t fit the players.
Victoria Pickett’s Return
Pickett had missed some action dealing with a concussion, so I was a bit surprised to see her start straight off an injury. I thought Matt Potter played her out of position by making her a wide midfielder. It struck me as, “she’s so good you can’t take her off the pitch,” even though that’s exactly what he did at halftime.
Victoria didn’t have her best game, but I’d chalk that up to it being preseason, her first game off injury and what she was asked to do. Consistently, Edmonds would play balls over the top into space ahead of Pickett and she just couldn’t get there. That’s not her game. She’s so slick on the ball, even in tight spaces and seems to be her best dribbling at defenders. If you are forcing that formation, I’d probably play her at the 10, but Lo’s best spot is the middle of the field too, so again, the formation didn’t fit the personnel.
Pace and Width
The one thing this formation lacked was pace and width with the starters. Hamilton surprised me winning some balls over the top, so I think she’s quicker than I was giving her credit for. But the fastest two starters were Mace and Edmonds in my opinion. They created most of the width (though Curran did a good job getting wide in the attack at times to fill in vacated space when the other midfielder were too narrow).
Edmonds and Mace could both probably play further up the pitch and be effective. Especially Mace. She would have been a perfect fit for one of those wide midfielder roles with players like Izzy Rodriguez and Mallory Weber able to fill in at fullback. Again, it just struck me as trying to play your best players, even if the formation didn’t fit.
One thing to watch is how Kansas City get used to their new field. It’s so much wider than Legend’s Field and they’ll learn to take advantage of that.
Adrianna Franch returned to the starting lineup after getting a rest midweek. She didn’t have her best game. She probably could have done better on the the third goal. I’ll give a pass on the second because it was a weird one and even a bit on the first since it’s an own goal and a tad unlucky.
However, she had a little trouble playing with her feet at times, particularly in the second half when she literally dribbled herself into trouble and lost the ball in her own box (how that didn’t end as a goal is a miracle). After Cassie Miller played well midweek (she wasn’t tested as much to be fair), there is definitely competition for the starting keeper job.
The Second Goal
Watching live, the assistant referee signals that Louisville are offside. However, the ref allows play to go on and Lauren Milliet knocks it in. The ref seems to have determined that because Loera tried to play the ball, it negates Louisville being offside. However, she’s probably stretching to play it because she knows the player is behind her and is punished for it skipping off her.
I think that’s technically the rule, but it feels like the wrong call. I know my colleague Thad Bell was the pool reporter at the game and asked the ref, but by the time I had left there was no response.
Kansas City were the Better Team
Go watch the highlights below and you’ll see KC were all over Louisville. They utterly dominated the first half. They get unlucky on the own goal and then the second goal was very weird before the team did just shut off a bit on the third. The bounces just can’t go like that all season.
At the half the expected goals (xG) were 1.40 for KC and just 0.38 for Louisville. Yet Kansas City were down 1-0. That just won’t keep happening.
Hopefully Mace is Okay
Just before stoppage time, Kansas City may have been dealt a bad blow. Hailie Mace had moved into one of the wide midfielder roles with Rodriguez subbing in at fullback. She was heading up the left sideline and crossed in a ball where she was absolutely cleaned out by the defender. There was nothing in the highlights and no replay was shown in the stadium but it didn’t look great. She appeared to be trying not to put weight on it as she was helped off and the Current played stoppage time down a woman because they were out of subs. After the game, Matt Potter didn’t yet have an update.
Potter: No update on Mace's injury. "I haven't had a chance to talk to anybody." #TealRising #KCvLOU— Chad Smith (@PlayFor90) April 2, 2022
Through the first four games of the Challenge Cup, Mace has been the MVP in my eyes. That’s weird to say from a fullback, but she’s been so good. The USWNT is always looking for good fullbacks and Mace is making her case for a return to the National Team.
In this game, she was looking a bit tired at times an on the own goal I think if she hustles just a hair harder to get into position that’s a blocked cross instead of a deflection into her net, but she’s just on the wrong side of McDonald.
Still, this team can’t afford to lose another attacking talent after Lynn Williams was lost for the season. Here is to hoping it’s nothing serious for Hailie.
Here are the match highlights put together by Attacking Third, a CBS Sports Podcast. I recommend subscribing to them as they put out longer, well done, highlight packages than the NWSL.
- Elyse Bennett is a monster out there. So fast. So strong. She got a couple fouls that just amount to girls crashing into her and falling over because she had position and is stronger than them. I want to see more of her starting for sure.
- The rookies are playing pretty dang good. All five of them got into the game and were pretty solid for the most part. Huw Williams sure has an eye for talent.
- Pretty solid attendance for a “preseason” game while Kansas University was playing in the Final Four. Over 6,300 and I expect it will only get better. What I’d personally like to see is a push to fill the stadium. I figure a full stadium, even if you sell the tickets for cheaper, would lead to plenty of concession and merch sales (though I don’t know, this could be my uneducated opinion). I remember taking a survey in the offseason about what I’d pay for certain seats and some of the numbers were astronomical. I’m probably not the target with my income, but I could see tons of youth soccer teams and families packing the stands if the prices are right.
Bonus — Check Out that Tifo
Don’t mind my typo in the Tweet (I should stick to a keyboard versus a phone because of my fat fingering). Good job to the Blue Crew! They were pretty loud too, considering just over 6,000 were in the stadium.
New Tifo from th @kcbluecrew. Warning! Strong Current. #TealRising pic.twitter.com/EJ7syFRyIj— Chad Smith (@PlayFor90) April 2, 2022