The Kansas City Current have entered 2023 with the expectation that they should be a better team than they were in 2022. That’s really saying something considering they were in the Supporters Shield race until the very end of the season and ultimately lost in the NWSL finals.
The season didn’t start as many probably expected after a 1-0 loss to the North Carolina Courage, but there is plenty of time to turn things around (stop me if you’ve heard this before in relation to KC soccer). Let’s dive in on some opening day observations.
Injury Depleted Lineup
Look no further than the gameday injury report to know, KC weren’t at their best.
Here's today's @saintlukeskc Health Report ❤️ pic.twitter.com/nZtH1Lr1RZ— KC Current (@thekccurrent) March 25, 2023
That’s nine players missing, five of which we knew about before this week (Glas, Mewis, Scott, Weber and Lavogez). Taking those five out, it’s arguable the other four could be starters too.
Fans of Kansas City soccer are definitely sick of the narrative ‘if we only had our best players,’ but at least the KC Current are a little new to this game. Sure, they were missing Sam Mewis and Lynn Williams in all of 2022, but it didn’t hold them back (like a certain other KC soccer team). Hopefully these injuries won’t drag on for months too.
Also, let’s hope whatever injury caused Elizabeth Ball to leave the game early isn’t serious.
A New Formation
All offseason, as the new signings were joining, we were left wondering what formation the team may play in. It seemed plausible they might roll out with a similar formation to last year when the injury report popped up earlier in the week, but they did in fact find a new look.
The most noticeable change was a move to a back four. Elizabeth Ball teamed with rookie Gabby Robinson at CB with Kate Del Fava out wide right and Hailie Mace wide left.
I would say the formation was a 4-3-3 in attack (though they weren’t attacking enough to know at times) and was definitely a 4-1-4-1 in defense to my eye, with Alex Loera setup as the primary defensive midfielder and the wingers (Larsson and Spaanstra) tucked into that midfield line next to Kizer and LaBonta when defending.
As the game progressed, things shifted at times. The wingers would flip, Larsson moved briefly to CF (more on this in a bit), LaBonta would settle in next to Loera at times and Mace would have free rein seemingly. By the end of the game, it almost looked like a back three with Izzy Rodriguez playing CB, even though she initially looked like she was a LB/LWB.
I think this will be a fluid situation as the season progresses and more players become available, and I actually think this was a bit of an odd choice given the personnel available. For example...
Why Start All Your Healthy Forwards?
Looking at the roster, I’d classify the following players as forwards: Mimmi Larsson, Cece Kizer, Kristen Hamilton, Michelle Cooper, Alexa Spaanstra and maybe Claire Lavogez. If you want to, maybe Debinha too, but she’d definitely an attacking midfielder (which is actually where I prefer Lavogez as well).
Hamilton, Debinha and Lavogez were all out. The other four were all in the starting lineup, with Cece Kizer playing that more attacking midfielder role.
Because of that, when the team needed a goal, they had no forwards to go to on the bench. Instead, they would sub on other players and push players forward. It seemed to me Kizer and Mace both pushed further up the field later in the game, but they weren’t as fresh as an attacker off the bench would have been.
It’s the first game of the season, and I won’t put too much on it, but this is something I’d like to see changed going forward.
Kizer Needs to be a Forward
To continue the above thought, I didn’t love seeing Cece Kizer in the midfield. I think she’s at her best using her pace to run at defenders and can do so in a two-forward setup (like last year) or I imagine she could do it as a winger in this setup. She joined the Current via trade from Racing Louisville last year and managed to score seven goals in just 15 games (14 starts). Most of those came as a forward (though they did this midfield experiment at times last year).
Put Cece in her best spot and I think even this game could have played out differently.
Is Larsson a CF or a Winger?
Another lineup move that surprised me, though who knows if it should have, was seeing Michelle Cooper at center forward and Mimmi Larsson out wide right most of the game. From everything we knew about Larsson since signing in the offseason, she sounded like an out-and-out CF. Cooper also sounded a lot more like a winger (or a second forward) than a CF.
There were points throughout the game where Cooper played out wide and Larsson was in the middle and they both seemed more comfortable and more dangerous. Cooper used her pace to run at defenders and Larsson used her body to control position and move off the shoulder of the CBs.
I’d like to see these roles reversed if KC stick with a three-forward setup.
Three Rookies in the Starting Lineup
In the offseason, we had heard rumblings that the team was high on several of their draft picks. Perhaps due to all the injuries, three of them nabbed starting spots on opening day. Gabby Robinson at CB, Alexa Spaanstra on the LW and Michelle Cooper at CF.
No one had an outstanding first game (though Cooper had a half chance to score late), but they all showed the promise as to why they were the first three picks from Kansas City in the draft this year.
Robinson had some shaky moments in defense (though that may not be all on her, more on that in a moment), particularly repeatedly clearing balls out of bounds early in the game under little or no pressure. She, along with basically everyone else at one point or another, made a bad turnover that led to chances for North Carolina. Despite her missteps, her promise showed through as well. She made a few really big plays bailing out her teammates. She also delivered a dime on a recycled corner that fellow CB Ball nearly put away (but was apparently offside per the announcers, though no replay was shown).
Alexa and Michelle were more invisible in this game than you’d like to see from your attack, but that could be a combination of it being their first game and the game plan that KC ran out.
The Defense was Exploited Much of the Game
With the move to a back four, the team seemed to struggle a bit. Brazilian attacker Kerolin had her way with the left side of the defense and kept them under pressure much of the game.
I’m not sure who to blame for this.
Partially, it’s just that Kerolin is so damn good. The 23-year-old is on the Brazilian National Team and already has 24 caps and five goals to her name in international competition.
But part of this was definitely on Kansas City. Either Hailie Mace was not used to the defensive responsibilities of playing in a back four and not having a spare CB there to shade over and cover the space she vacates to get into the attack, or the tactics she was given meant someone else was supposed to cover that space. Left winger Alexa Spaanstra would sometimes be there as well as defensive midfielder Alex Loera and even Kizer.
Regardless, it’s something KC have to clean up or the entire league will just play long balls into the space behind Mace and put this team in bad spots over and over.
Speaking of Mace, I would like to know what the plan was with her. Is she given the freedom to roam? She was all over the field, popping up in the attack, in the midfield and seemingly everywhere but where you’d expect a LB to be.
There were several times I saw attacking midfielder Cece Kizer deeper than I saw Mace, which felt sort of odd. Late in the game, Michelle Cooper made a recovery run to shut down a counterattack in that space (admittedly this was off a failed set piece, so maybe there is less in this example). Is Mace going rogue or is that the plan? If it’s the plan, I’m not sure that works without a back three on the field. Maybe Mace’s long-term place on this squad is at LW or even as an attacking minded midfielder.
I’ve long been on the record of not caring for Paramount Plus. The inability to watch a match replay until the following day or start a game late from the beginning is ridiculous considering we pay extra to watch games here. When I started the game, a pop-up did say there will be the ability to fast forward and rewind during “limited games.” I didn’t test this feature.
As I write this, hours after the game, the match replay is not yet available.
Putting those issues aside, there were other troubles on the opening broadcast. The volume of the broadcasters was all over the place. It would be impossible to hear at times and blowing out your ears at others. Additionally, the color commentator of the game talked endlessly, not letting JP Dellacamera get a word in despite him being the play-by-play guy. Both of these issues seemingly were fixed in the second half, but my headache had already set in (maybe partially due to the play on the field by KC too).
I’ll give NWSL some grace on these second two issues, but match replays being available right away feels like a must-fix issue for both fans and those of us trying to cover the league. ‘Watch live or screw you’ doesn’t feel like a good motto.
While this list of observations is mostly negative, it’s only one game. I’m by no means panicked, but these are all things I’m keeping an eye on going forward. We’ll see what changes in week two when KC hosts the Portland Thorns.