2023 S-2 Briefing: Kansas City

This week we begin a series looking at the prospective opponents for next season.

In case you’re not familiar with it, the “S-2” is the portion of a U.S. Army unit’s staff that concentrates on scoping out potential enemies. Back in the day when my battalion would go on the highest alert condition we’d get an “S-2 Briefing” where the intel weenies would lay out who and where we were likely to end up getting shot at.

That’s what this is; a look at the folks who’ll be shooting at our goal this coming year.

I don’t have a particular inspiration for how to arrange this mess, so I’ll take the easy way out; by presenting the opponents in the order we last saw them.

So we’ll start with the Final opponent Kansas City, proceeding to the semifinal (San Diego) and then the other playoff teams in order of finish – OL Reign (semifinal), Chicago (quarterfinal), and Houston (quarterfinal).

We’ll finish up with the teams below the red line in order of the 2022 table, so The Damned Courage, Angel City, Louisville, Orlando, Washington, and finally Gotham.

I’m going to try and organize the posts internally by starting with an overview of the club, then a brief summary of their past season (or two), the changes (to date) since the Final, and a rough assessment of what those changes might mean; who stood pat, who improved, who might have taken a step back.

With that said, let’s start by taking a look at the

Kansas City Current

Year formed: 2021
(As you probably know, the Current were the Utah Royals until the Hansen debacle of 2020, were bought by the Longs and moved to the city where the original club, FC Kansas City, began back in 2013. The past three years or so have been a long, strange trip for both the Kroyals and their fans in both cities.)

Owners: Angie Long, Chris Long, Brittany and Pat Mahomes.
(The Longs were the original buyers whose idea it was to move the team back to KC, and the Mahomes got in initially though Brittany’s role in the sale. Both the Longs are “capital management specialists” (read: finance types), Brittan Mahomes is in the “fitness” biz and I don’t imagine you don’t know what the male Mahomes did for a living…)

Head Coach: Matt Potter
(Potter is a Brit – former Watford midfielder in the Eighties – who’s knocked around the soccer world a bit, starting as a club coach in Arizona before moving into the NCAA as head coach for the delightfully named Scottsdale “Fighting Artichokes”. His other NCAA head coaching gigs included Wazzu and Oklahoma before getting the nod for the USWNT U-23s. He was tapped for the Current in January 2022, replacing Huw Williams who had been bumped upstairs after the dire 2021 season and has since been canned for being the usual NWSL asshole to the staff and players.)

Record:
I’m going to include 2021 here simply because the earlier season is fairly important to the KCC story; they damn near went from worst to first, so we should include that in their vita.
2021 – 3-14-7 (16 points; 10th of 10) 15GF 36GA -21GD
Season summary: The Current sank like a stone; from second after Matchday 1 the club snatched the wooden spoon by Matchday 4 and never rose from there.
Meetings with Portland: 6/20/21 (1-nil loss), 8/1/21 (2-nil loss), 10/10/21 (scoreless home draw)
2022 – 10-6-6 (36 points; 5th of 12) 29GF 29GA 0GD
Season summary: The reverse of 2021; from bottom on Matchday 1 the Current steadily moved up the table. Seventh by Matchday 10, third after Matchday 16, to a brief spell at the top between Matchdays 18 and 20; three poor results dropped them to fifth where they entered the playoffs. Defeated Houston 1-2 in the quarterfinal and then OL Reign 0-2 in the semifinal before losing the Final to Portland, as we all know.
Meetings with Portland: 4/30/22 (3-nil loss), 9/18/22 (1-1 home draw), 10/29/22 (2-nil loss in D.C.)

Outstanding players: 2021 – One of the biggest problems KCC had in 2021 is that their “best” players weren’t really that good. Darian Jenkins was their top scorer with only three goals. No one else had more than two.
The defense was porous, as the goals-against number shows, and the keepers (Nicole Barnhart, Abby Smith, and Adrianna Franch) did not do well behind them, all with GAA over 1.0.

2022 – The reversal of fortune owed a hell of a lot to Lo’eau LaBonta having a career year (8 goals) as well as big seasons from Kristen Hamilton and Cece Kizer (both with 7).
The defense was not much better than average – which, mind, was a big improvement on 2021! – allowing about 31 xG against Franch in 23 games. But Franch had a much better season; her defensive difference (xGa to goals conceded) was -0.32/game, fifth best in the league.

How did they score?

Arielle Dror did a nice little chart at the end of 2022 showing how each NWSL team’s goals were scored:

I ran the numbers for KCC and added them to the chart, but beyond the raw data what jumps out at me from this is:

  1. The Current don’t score much from the run of play. Their 16 goals from open play represent only about 55% of their total goals. That’s THE lowest of the entire league; the Red Stars, with 21/34 or 61.7% is the next lowest. That sort of matches what we saw in last year’s Final; if they can’t get setpieces or penalties the Current have scoring issues.
  2. They do, however, pick up a crap ton of goals from:
  3. Corner kicks (6/29), which were matched by the other top setpiece-scoring club, Chicago, nearly exactly. Carolina’s 17.4% (8/46) was the only other club close. For a club with Taylor Korneick I was a bit shocked when I saw that San Diego was deep in the low single figures (2/32, about 6%) for corners, but, whatever…
  4. and penalties – indeed, Kansas City’s 20.6% (6/29) was far and away the top PK production in the league; San Diego (5/32, 15.6%) was the closest. Continuing their notorious inability to draw penalties, Portland clocked in at 3/49, or about 6% of their total goals.

You probably won’t be surprised to find that one of the big factors behind LaBonta’s huge 2022 scoring were PKs; seven attempted, six converted…meaning that all of Kansas City’s successful spot-kicks were hers.

We’ll discuss this, but presumably the bid for Cooper and Spaanstra and the trade for Debinha is to sharpen the Current attacking blade.

Changes for 2023

The Current may have been the single most aggressive club at offseason moves.

Among those moves included shedding three players:
Lynn Williams (forward) – traded to Gotham for second overall pick in the 2023 draft.
Elyse Bennett (forward) – traded to OL Reign for cash and a second round 2023 draft pick.
Kristen Edmonds (forward) – released and signed as a free agent by Gotham.

There’s at least one player still up in the air: I can’t find anything suggesting that Desiree Scott has been waived, traded, or sold…but she’s not listed on the team site so is presumably there but still unsigned.

Compared to the losses KCC’s gains are immense, including:
Debinha (midfielder) – from NCC as a free agent
Vanessa DiBernardo (midfielder) – from Chicago as a free agent
Morgan Gautrat (midfielder) – from Chicago as a free agent
Michelle Cooper (forward) – drafted (1st round #2)
Alexa Spaanstra (forward/midfielder) – drafted (1st round #10)
Gabby Robinson (defensive midfielder) – drafted (2nd round #15)
Jordan Silkowitz (goalkeeper) – drafted (2nd round #18)
Mykiaa Minniss (centerback) – drafted (3rd round #35)
Elle Schamberger (centerback) – drafted (4th round #38)
Rylan Childers (ACM) – drafted (4th round #42)
Ashley Orkus (goalkeeper) – drafted (4th round #28)

Whew. That’s a crap-ton of new bodies

Okay, so, what does this probably mean?

How Did They Look?

Here’s the Current in their semifinal and final formations (the semifinal on the left):

The backlines are identical; Hailie Mace at LB, Edmonds, Liz Ball, and Addisyn Merrick across the centerbacks, and Kate Del Fava at RB.

Against the Reign Potter slotted Alex Loera into the #6; against Portland he doubled up his defensive midfield, adding Desiree Scott as a DM.

The frontlines are similar – Kizer, Hamilton, and LaBonta, but with Scott pushed up against Seattle. I didn’t see that game, so I’m not sure if KCC really ran out in some sort of 5-3-2, though; LaBonta seems to be a #9, so seeing her pulled back against Seattle seems peculiar. I’d appreciate anyone who saw this match enlightening me.

That seems to have been pretty much the standard for Kansas City last season, though, so we can make some guesses as to…

How they’ll look next year?

Obviously we’re going to see Debinha doing Debinha things – running at goal from midfield. Does that mean a change of formation? Here’s one example, which comes from Chris Henderson:

He moves to a four-back, pulls Loera closer to goal as a CB but keeps the FBs where they are, and then rejiggers the midfield.

Is this a diamond? And where’s LaBonta? Seems pretty harsh to leave her on the bench and start Cooper instead! I respect Henderson’s judgement, but I’m not sure I buy this.

How about this, instead:

The midfield is almost too busy to settle out; you’ve got Sam Mewis in place of Scott, and Gautrat or DiBernardo in place of Loera. The only pole star is Debinha; you can’t not have her on the pitch.

I think the real questions here are:

  1. Can LaBonta continue her 2022 form? Between 2018 and 2022 she scored a total of three goals in 61 matches. That suggests that 2022 was the outlier and the previous three seasons the norms.
  2. The same applies to Kristen Hamilton and CeCe Kizer. Hamilton is streaky; her goals fluctuated from 7 last season to 2 in 2021, 9 in 2019, and 3 in 2018 but Kizer, like LaBonta, had a career high in 2022. That suggests that the two of them are more likely to add 6 or 7 goals rather than 14 in 2023.
  3. What about the defense? I’m not sure if the rookies and Chicago’s midfielders will be enough to improve the squad that gave up more goals than the other 2022 playoff teams.

Summing Up

Even with the open questions, Kansas City’s offseason has improved the club measurably. Debinha will add punch to the attack, assuming that the existing forwards can continue to approach their 2022 productivity. Cooper and Spaanstra will provide strong support in reserve, and the rest of the midfield is spoiled for choice.

The Current have big ambitions, and appear to be driving towards them. They’ve opened their own training facility and are planning on their own venue

Predictions?

I pretty much have to see Kansas City as a playoff lock next season. Given their depth they should be a simultaneous threat in the Cup run, as well. The Current have big dreams, and they look to have taken steps that will help them fulfill those dreams.

For me the real question is how they’ll do once they get into the knockouts. The Current tore up what I thought was the most likely other finalist (Seattle) but then proceeded to utterly fold in the Final.

Some of that was Portland taking stick to them. But some had to have been something breaking down for Kansas City, and I’m going to assume that, among their other aggressive actions this off-season a deep look at what happened and a plan to prevent that is going to be part of their return to play in 2023.

Will they be dangerous? Absolutely; no team with Debinha can be overlooked, and this team has added a metric ton of talent. We did well enough against them last season, but providing the Current can work out a way to fit all this talent on and off the pitch, and assuming that 1) the jump in LaBonta’s and Hamilton’s form is real and permanent, and 2) the new faces stiffen the defensive midfield and backline, this club could be a very difficult opponent.

Can the Thorns beat them? Depends. I’m not sure that Portland can repeat the 2-0-1 they posted in 2022. I think this will be a very even matchup, and is likely to come down to which team is, and even which player is (or players are) having a better day. So I’d venture to say “Yes…but not consistently. Kansas City is going to have it’s days.”

Next up: The San Diego Wave

Latest posts by John Lawes (see all)

7 thoughts on “2023 S-2 Briefing: Kansas City

  1. I wanted to say “they’ve gone about as far as they can go”! to play off the Oklahoma reference, but it sounds like they didn’t do much in improve the back line beyond the draft.

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    1. True. Given what we’re seeing Potter may have decided to go the Brazil “you score four we’ll score five” route. If there’s a weakness it’s in back. The question is whether a team without a Smith or Morgan-level striker can take advantage of that. We might find out early in this season…

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  2. What a great analysis! Shortly after the draft I was ready to call Kansas City the best team in the league, but after reading your analysis it seems like, yeah they have Debinha and added Cooper and Spanstra; but that just strengthened their strengths. The defense still is questionable. Yeah Franch is great and Mace is tough but also a card magnet. The midfield when Debinha is at the WC will be somewhat sclerotic. A big question is Sam Mewis. Will she be back? Will we ever see her again?
    They will be dangerous and in the mix; plus probably the most powerful team during the WC window.

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    1. Yeah, I should have added a note that the disinterest that Potter & Co. showed in upgrading the backline is surprising. But they might not see things like this, so it may be they see the problems as more getting more punch going forward – as noted, their production off the run of play was pretty thin…

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  3. Love this analysis and looking forward to the next. A great way to enjoy soccer when there isn’t any. After today’s news (24th) I’m v worried Dunn won’t be in our lineup. What think you?

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    1. I’ve already got the San Diego piece cued up. I’ll drop it tomorrow morning latest.

      So I’m of two minds on the Soubrier firing.

      First, yes, it’s going to put Dunn in a tough spot; working for the outfit that canned her old man. One of the primary explanations I got for her pushing for the move here was that he worked here…and now he doesn’t.

      Second…if he was MY husband I’d be kicking his ass up and down the hallway for the next week. Handing out meds without a scrip? WITHOUT INFORMING THE PATIENT???? WTF, DUDE!!??!!

      I worked with Army medics who got very casual about triple-twos (222s or tylenol with codeine) but this wasn’t some 91C in West Jipipistan whose joes were dunking 800mg of Motrin every six hours because their rucks were busting their knees down.

      This is the States, and there’s a bright line even for docs, let alone unlicensed magic-spray-jockeys. Soubrier has worked in MLS and the NWSL for damn near a decade. He knows better, and that the team doc handed him these meds and then tried to pull them back suggests that she was concerned that he was (stop me if you;re going to be shocked that a Paulson Peregrine employee would be) sloppy and careless and “whatever…” about handing them around.

      So if Dunn is gonna go all “stand by your man”, well…that’s that.

      But if I was her I’d be fucking pissed off enough with him to stop on the way to practice to tell him to fuck off down to the shape-up along MLK to get on a landscaping crew to pay his part of the mortgage…

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  4. Yup. I don’t understand the situation tho. If the doctor could prescribe the meds, why would she send them out and take them back? How did he get them? I’m ok living in ignorance, but it’s confusing. I’m particularly looking forward to yr LA & Damned Courage analysis. I can’t get a grasp on them.

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