2024 S-2 Briefing: Kansas City Current

Okay, now we’re down in the subfloor of the 2023 season, with the…I dunno, what do you call the Runner-up to the Wooden Spoon? The Plastic Spoon? The Wooden Spork? Sporkie? I dunno, but whatever it is, that’s what happened in 2023 to the…

Kansas City Current

Year formed: 2021

But this outfit was the Salt Lake City “Utah Royals FC” from the 2018 season until the Hansen debacle of 2020.

Even before that the core of the club was the bits and pieces of one of the Original Eight; as the Royals Wikipedia page says, “On November 20, 2017, the league announced that FC Kansas City of the National Women’s Soccer League would fold their club, and the team’s player contracts, draft picks, and other rights would be transferred to the new Salt Lake City club.”

In 2020 the Royals were bought by the Longs and moved to the city where FCKC began back in 2013, and they’ve now played three seasons there. The Current have a lot of trappings of a big successful club; a fancy new stadium and a stand-alone training ground.

Owners: Angie Long, Chris Long, Brittany and Pat Mahomes.
A couple of VC types, a sportsball dude and his Domestic Six. Same-same as last time.

Head Coach: Vlatko Andonovski
Hardly needing an introduction, Vlatko became the poster child for “NWSL coaching is sub-international-grade” for his work on the USWNT during the 2023 World Cup.

He’d got there by excelling in the NWSL; two-time champion with the original FCKC, then taking over from Laura Harvey in Seattle. But once there his failure to develop a settled (and effective) roster or successful tactics led to an – for the Nats accustomed to glory – unusually-early exit and his sacking.

Now he’s back where he started, but in a very different situation from the last time he began working this team up before the inaugural season in 2013.

Last year I wrote: “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.”

2022-2023 was the freakish reverse-mirror-image of 2021-2022; first-to-almost-worst, so I kinda have to repeat that this year.
2022 – 10-6-6 (36 points; 5th of 12) 29GF 29GA 0GD
Season summary: 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.
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.)
2023 – 8-12-2 (26 points; 11th of 12) 30GF 36GA -6GD
Season summary: Starting under direction of 2022 Coach of the Year finalist Matt Potter the Current proceeded to drop the first three matches by a combined score of 3GF 9GA. Potter was canned in April for “issues around his leadership and employment responsibilities”. He was replaced by his assistant, Finnish coach Caroline Sjöblom.

Sjöblom ran off two quick wins in April. This was a false spring, however; the club then dropped four in a row, and overall went 8-9-2 to finish next-to-last. Andonovski was hired in October.
Meetings with Portland: 4/1/23 (1-4 home loss), 7/1/23 (0-1 away win)

Outstanding players: In ’23 the Current ran out one great player, Brazil and former Carolina midfielder Debinha, who led the club with 9 goals.

But Lo’eau LaBonta (who’d had a career year in ’22 with 8 goals) imploded in ’23, starting only 16 times and nicking only two goals and an assist. The other top scorers from 2022 declined as well; Kristen Hamilton (from 7 goals to 2) and Cece Kizer (from 7 to 6).

It’s telling that the third-highest scorer in 2023 was a defender, Isabel Rodriguez, with three. Michelle Cooper also got three, and five players got two each.

In back the Current had lots of issues. The backline itself wasn’t great, and behind them two big “what-the-fuck” problems hit the Current hard.

First, their primary keeper imploded. Former Thorn Adrianna Franch had a tire fire of a season, going 3-7-2 with only a single clean sheet. In her three wins she conceded four goals, including three to Chicago in a 6-3 scoreline. She was benched after three straight losses in April.

Then after her backup, Cassie Miller, played most of April, May, and June, from Matchday 4 through Matchday 14 (Miller split the run of ten matches 5-5-0, four of her five wins coming through clean sheets) Miller was benched for some reason and Franch returned between the sticks for the final eight games.

Goalkeeper – SeasonxG againstGAGamesxGa/gameD/Diff
Franch 20223129231.34-0.32
Franch 20232322121.91+0.14
Miller 202312.913101.29+0.01

I’m not sure why…
1) …her backline played so much better in front of Miller than Franch; as in more than half-a-goal-xG-against better. More confidence in safer hands? Miller gave out candy before matches? It wasn’t opponents – KCC in front of Miller beat Orlando twice, us, The Damned, and Gotham – so I’m kinda baffled. And…
2) …having benched Franch and seen the improvement with Miller, why Sjöblom then went back to Franch after July. Franch did better in the late season than in April, going 3-4-2, but still conceded over a goal a game.

Overall it’s hard to figure how between them Potter and Sjöblom made such a dog’s dinner out of this club.

A big part has to be players like LaBonta and Franch collapsing. But when you’ve got a Debinha and you finish next-to-last? You got problems.

How did they score?

Mostly (73%) from the run of play or penalties (13%). And of those run of play goals six (20%) came from a single match, the 6-3 beatdown of the hapless Spoon, Chicago, in October:

That’s kind of interesting, because in 2022 the Current’s 16 goals from open play represented only about 55% of their total goals, the lowest of the entire league. They got a crap-ton off corners and penalties, each producing 6 goals (about 21% each). Last season? The penalties were still sorta there, but the corners? From 21% to 3%.

If you take out Chicago, and Debinha?

This club was a punchless mess.

Changes for 2024

The Current lost several important pieces from 2023.

Cece Kizer was traded to Houston, and Sam Mewis retired due to nagging injuries. Cassie Miller was lost to Gotham through free agency. Other losses included Alex Loera to Bay City, Kate Del Fava to Utah, and Addison Merrick to Utah as a free agent.

Debinha remains as do many of the squad players from 2023. Nichelle Prince came in from Houston with the Kizer trade. Bayley Feist was signed as a free agent from Washington.

Perhaps the most intriguing signing is Malawian international forward Temwa Chawinga.

She played for Wuhan Jianghan University FC over the past three seasons, and is credited there with an incredible 83 goals in 84 appearances. Her Wikipedia page says she scored 51 goals “across all competitions” for Wuhan last year alone.

Cool Chawinga trivia? “Temwa” means “love” in the Tumbuka language.

Compared to 2023 the 2024 draft was impossibly lean for KCC; from eight picks last year to three – none in the first round – with which they took:
Ellie Wheeler (defender) – 2nd round #18
Halle Mackiewicz (goalkeeper) – 3rd round #32, and
Hope Hisey (goalkeeper) – 4th round #46

Henderson kinda dumped on the Wheeler pick (“Don’t really get it with some of the other RBs on the board despite filling need”) which was way nicer than he was about the keepers; Mackiewicz got a “D” for poor shot-stopping, and after the Hisey pick he moaned “Why are you going with 2 GKs when you have 3 picks overall? KC going double GK two seasons in a row. I am agog.”

He concluded his draft coverage by commenting: “Not planning on ranking teams by draft class, but…Kansas City way, way at the bottom based on value.”

I don’t see any of the domestic transfers as such of a muchness, either. Losing Mewis hurts in midfield, and I think Prince for Kizer is kind of a wash. Not sure why Cassie Miller was let go and Franch kept on; their form last season was utterly opposite.


The Chawinga signing could be huge, massive, season-changing – if she’s what she looked like in China. We’ll have to see; I have no confidence in the Chinese domestic league as an indicator of quality. She could be playing against low-grade semi-pros like Babe Ruth playing in a Babe Ruth League.

How Did They Look?

Another case of “why look back at the old boss when there’s a new boss in town”? Analyzing Potter and Sjöblom is kinda pointless. Instead, let’s discuss Vlatko’s known preferences.

Here’s a 2019 piece that does a good job summing his tactical doings at the time he took over the Nats:

“While Andonovski has preferred a 4-3-3 system with relatively aggressive pressing and a pure holding midfielder for defensive solidity, he has shown that he can adapt to available personnel. In early seasons with Kansas City, Andonovski favored a 4-2-3-1 formation to get the most out of his best player, Holiday.In the latter part of his tenure with Kansas City, Andonovski attempted to build a 4-4-2 system around Rodriguez as his primary link between midfield and new goal-poaching striker Sydney Leroux.”

Kim McCauley, “Everything you need to know about Vlatko Andonovski, the USWNT’s new head coach”, SB Nation, October 28, 2019

The intriguing part about that is that Vlatko’s inflexible clutch on the 4-3-3 and his failure to adapt his formations and tactics to player injuries and form were typically cited as the main reasons for his failure with the USWNT.

Let’s assume the Macedonian doesn’t change his rakija, though, and we’ll probably see a 4-3-3 in Kansas City this coming year. What might that look like?

Well, here’s the last 4-3-3 we saw in 2023:

Del Fava’s gone, and so is Loera, but most of this group will be here in March. So…what might a Vlatko Current look like..?

How they’ll look next year?

I’m leaving Franch in goal because it seems impossible to believe the Current would let Miller go without seeing her as their starter. That seems like a self-inflicted wound to me, but I have nothing else to go on.

I think this might change after preseason, too. LaBonta has to step up better than she did last season, but her form before and after 2022 suggests that season was a career year. If not LaBonta, then, who?

The defenders weren’t very good in front of Franch in 2023, and if her form hasn’t improved that’s going to be crucial. They both need to be better, but if Franch is still a dodgy keeper her defenders have to limit opponent looks at her.

Is Chawinga all that?

Can Debinha stay in the kind of form she had in 2022?

Can Vlatko succeed in NWSL 2.0?

Summing Up

I think this club has to succeed this season. With their structural advantages of training ground and new pitch it’s time to make a real go at the top step. Playoffs are a minimum, the Final the ambition.

Can they do that? Right now, I honestly don’t know.


I pretty much have to see Kansas City as a playoff lock next season. Eight go in, and I think this outfit can finish eighth, at a bare minimum.

For me the real question is 1) beyond that…can they improve above the minimum and, if so, how much above the minimum? and 2) how they’ll do once they get into the knockouts. That’s tough to say. Vlatko’s record in knockout games is sketchy; failed with the Nats, failed in Seattle in 2018 and 2019. His FCKC stars are a long time ago in a NWSL galaxy far, far away.

Will they be dangerous? To some degree, yes; no team with Debinha can be overlooked, and this team has added a possible monster in Chawinga. And we split the series with them last year when they were a dumpster fire. So, yes, unless we improve significantly over 2023.

Can the Thorns beat them? Depends. They’ve improved, so have we, so I think a lot will come down to matchday management; is Vlatko better at soccer than Norris? IF so, we’re going to struggle even with Smith and Weaver.

I think this will be a very even matchup, and is likely to come down to which gaffer is, and even which player is (or players are), having a better day.

Last season I said “Yes…but not consistently. Kansas City is going to have its days.” and they did.

In this coming year those days might come more often

Next up: Chicago-Style Deep Dish Spoon-Licking

John Lawes
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