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Three Observations from KC Current vs. North Carolina Courage

It’s time to look towards the regular season home opener, but a quick look back at the final Challenge Cup game could preview what’s to come.

Kansas City Current | Imagn

After quite the run in the 2022 NWSL Challenge Cup, the Kansas City Current’s attempt to win an early season trophy came to an end at the hands of the North Carolina Courage on Wednesday night in rain soaked conditions. KC fought valiantly, but it’s time to turn our attention to the 2022 NWSL regular season.

Before that though, let’s take a quick look back at the last match and see if there is anything we can take away from this early/preseason tournament.

Breaking Down the Formation

If you’ve watch Kansas City this year, you know head coach Matt Potter likes to throw out lots of different formations. Even in the same game. I’m not sure he has “a formation” like Sporting Kansas City’s Peter Vermes is tied to the 4-3-3, but it’s worth exploring the look they gave last night, as it’s similar to what they showed against the Chicago Red Stars in their fourth win of the tourney (they won just three times all season in 2021, that’s something).

In attack, it looks like a 3-4-1-2. The three center backs (Winebrenner, Leach, Ball) are deep with the ability to roam forward or get wide. In the midfield, the wide midfielders are basically wingbacks. To start the game that was Izzy Rodriguez on the left and Kristen Edmonds on the right. In between them are two defensive midfielders in Alex Loera and Desi Scott. Victoria Pickett plays in a bit of a free roaming 10 role and Kirsten Hamilton and Elyse Bennett are up top.

When they drop to defend, it’s a bit of a 5-2-1-2 with the wingbacks settling into the back line and at times one of the forwards retreats to help (though at other times, they both stayed forward looking to put pressure on the Carolina backline if there was a turnover).

Later in the second half when a bunch of subs were made, they seemed to come out of this formation a bit, but it was hard to get my bearings on who was where because players were all over the place. It looked at times like a bit of a 3-4-3 with Edmonds nominally playing CB and Hailie Mace coming in at forward (though she played that left wing back spot before the heavier rotation in the 2nd half).

It’ll be something to watch to see if Potter sticks with this or just changes it to fit his players. When they went to the 3-4-3, LoBonta was pushed wide left and became ineffective, but she was causing havoc as one of the d-mids when she came on for Winebrenner and Loera moved to CB.

Tired Legs

One flaw of the Challenge Cup is the timing of it all. There were six group stage games stretched out going all the way back to 18th of March. But then right before the semi-finals there was suddenly regular season games, seeing the four teams who advanced ‘punished’ by playing three games in their first week of the season. There is prize money on the line, but it’s hard not to view this as a preseason tournament.

I’d have rather seen some double game weeks during the tourney, where teams could choose to more heavily rotate their squads than to see the first few regular season games getting rotated squads. Heck, play through that international break. They do it in the regular season, why not in the Challenge Cup?

I think that did result in some tired legs on Wednesday night, though I’m sure the weather and travel after playing on turf in Portland didn’t help either. There were a few heavy balls that could have been from the rain or could have just been under hit. The one that stood out the most (though there were a bunch), was when Edmonds turned it over leading to the second Courage goal. It was the eventual game winner. I’d give her a rest as she’s one of the older players on the team, despite at times seemingly playing all the minutes. Mallory Weber going down hurts, as she’d be her most likely replacement.

Another thing I noticed around tired legs were players having to conserve energy at times. Elyse Bennett seems like she has an endless motor, but she started Wednesday and against Portland. With Lynn Williams done for the year, they probably need her for the home opener on Sunday too. Jamming these “tournament” games in, probably hurts the product on the field right when all the attention is turned to the league.

Mace Returns

One shining bright spot was the return of Hailie Mace from injury. When she went down for a late (and uncalled) challenge earlier in the tourney, it looked bad. She couldn’t put any weight on her foot/ankle and had to be carried from the field.

She wasn’t quite herself yet when stepping on as a halftime sub, but she immediately provided a spark. She started in that wide left midfielder/left wingback spot but moved to left wing as the formation changed. She was cutting inside and combining well, including one beautiful backheel pass. Once her fitness gets up, she’s a USWNT player in my opinion.