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Seven Observations from KC Current’s Amazing Opener

We look at the good and the bad from Saturday’s stadium opening win from the Kansas City Current as they hosted the Portland Thorns.



Credit: Thad Bell

The Kansas City Current started off the 2024 season with quite the showing. There was a moment, when they were up 4-1, that I thought back to the 2023 season opener and remember they lost to this same Portland Thorns team by that same scoreline. It felt poetic. Of course, five more goals were still about to be scored in KC on Saturday. While it got nervy, ultimately the home team got the job done and got all three points.

There are a ton of things that stood out from the game, both on the field and off. So, let’s get right to them.

It Wasn’t Perfect, but it Was Pretty Great

From the opening of the first stadium of its kind built for women, to the end result on the field, the day was a massive success for the KC Current, their owners Angie & Chris Long and Brittany & Patrick Mahomes, the coaching staff and the players. Tons of national media were present, ESPN/ABC broadcast the game, celebrities were out, and they won.

There were a lot of concerns coming into the game around parking, the roster and even if Vlatko still has it after his USWNT run, but I think most everyone should be pleased. Sure, those parking passes coming out late and costing too much will still have some upset, but on the whole ownership bought themselves some time with a high class showing out of the gate. Again, not a perfect day, and certain aspects will get better, but it was still an amazing day.

The Formation and Leadership

Over the last few years, the KC Current have struggled to find a consistent identity and formation. They’ve played five in the back. They’ve tried four in the back with different midfield shapes in front of them. Likely they’ll keep tinkering, but offensively, things really worked. And that was still without several players unavailable due to injury (Michelle Cooper, Desiree Scott, Hanna Glas and Mallory Weber). Beyond that, even more were still working their way to full fitness.

They’ve also struggled to stick with one coaching staff. Coming into year four, they are on their fourth head coach. Huw Williams got a single season. Matt Potter got a little over a season and was fired three games after losing the NWSL Championship. Caroline Sjoblom got all but those three games as the interim coach. Vlatko looks here to stay, and I could see him really settling into the 4-3-3 they played on Saturday with all the talent he and Camille Ashton have amassed this offseason.

One wrinkle I’m interested in is how far up the field the right back was playing. Ellie Wheeler, a rookie, got the start and at times she was the furthest player up the pitch. She was a forward earlier in her career and she ultimately scored a goal, but it’s something to watch.

The Players

When I posted the lineup/formation predictions to social media, I got a little grief for calling this team “loaded.” It’s a wildly rebuilt roster and it had a ton of unknowns coming in. Can Temwa Chawinga do what she did in China in the United States? Will Bia Zanerrato’s success with Brazil and abroad translated in the NWSL? Will these young kids even get on the field? Can last year’s draft class take a step forward? Can Vlatko put all these pieces together?

With an incredibly small sample size, it appears to be a lot of answering ‘yes’ to the above questions. Chawinga subbed in and immediately created a goal then got an assist on the next one. Bia was the truth (more on her in a minute). Two rookies started, three rookies played, and two goals were scored from that group. One of those was Alex Pfieffer becoming the youngest goal-scorer in NWSL history!

Vlatko talking to Pfieffer before subbing in. | Credit: Thad Bell

While Ellie Wheeler and Pfieffer got the goals, 18-year-old Claire Hutton may have been the most impressive of the group playing all 90 minutes in the critical defensive midfielder role. She’s near the top of the league in interceptions, showing she was reading the game very well for just making her pro debut.

Last year’s draft class was missing the aforementioned Cooper, who was out with injury, but Alexa Spaanstra and Gabby Robinson each started. Robinson cleaned up a lot of plays defensively and Spaanstra had an up and down day, but still showed a ton of promise.

And Bia… well she gets her own section.

Bia is the Real Deal

Vanessa DiBernardo confirmed after the game what many of us suspected. Bia basically hasn’t practiced with the team at all! She was awaiting paperwork to enter the country from Brazil. Then she entered and immediately left to join the Brazilian National Team at the W Gold Cup. That tournament ended six days before the NWSL season started.

Despite having almost no practice time with the KC Current, she was a force at center forward. She interchanged and connected passes extremely well with her teammates. She nearly had the first goal in stadium history and eventually she did get the third one. In fact, she was tied for second in the NWSL for attacking sequence involvements. And she did it in 45 minutes of play when everyone else on the list needed 89-90 minutes.

Bia looks like a force at center forward. Not to mention, she played wide at times for Brazil, so she has positional diversity, which most of the forwards seem to have.

How Bad is Debinha Injured?

Unfortunately, it’s not all positive news out of the opener.

At this point, we don’t know if Debinha will miss time. It’s interesting she wasn’t on the injury report, because it sure looked like from my vantage point in the stadium, she was unwrapping her leg after going down. She then limped from the field and slammed down the wrapping/tape.

We’re told it’s a hamstring injury and they’ll have scans done this week. Muscle injuries can linger and not having Deb in the lineup will really hurt. However, the team did score three more times without her on the field.

One wonders if she was injured coming into the game. She wasn’t on the injury report, but she only played about the last 10 minutes for Brazil against the USWNT in the finals of the W Gold Cup. It’s hard to imagine any other reason you don’t put one of the best female players in the world on the field otherwise.

Get well soon Deb!

Defensive Lapses or World Class Goals?

Anytime you let four goals into the net, there is cause for concern. Sophia Smith and Janine Beckie both had a brace and almost spoiled the day for Kansas City. However, looking back at the goals, one might want to play the defense or the goalkeeper. I think there is more to it.

The first goal is scored after Elizabeth Ball pings a hard pass into Lo LaBonta and her controlling touch is too heavy. Smith pounces and scores from distance. Obviously, Ball could play a safer pass and Lo can take a better touch, but Smith is just really good. The third goal illustrated that too. She was heavily guarded and somehow got a shot off around some defenders and through the legs of another and it perfectly nested into the side netting. Few other than Smith could pull that off.

And the fourth goal was a worldie. Wheeler has a pass intercepted, but the defense was well position. Beckie just curls a ball from well outside the box into the corner. The only goal that feels like a big mistake is the second one. Franch gets beat on her near post on a set piece and that’s a no-no for GKs.

Overall, I need to see more, but I’m not super worried.

Oh, the Wind!

Before heading to the stadium, I warned my family (who apparently weren’t listening) that the wind blowing off the river would make things quite cold. Many fans seemed to be quite chilly, but the wind had other impacts as well. I saw a lot of folks complaining about the smoke from the Blue Crew and it’s something that will need to be accounted for.

But it also impacted play. An early corner kick from the South end of the stadium nearly became an Olimpico and curled into the goal. Someone is definitely going to score that way at some point. Maybe Messi should come play at CPKC since that goal type has eluded him his entire career.

The other factor was with the wind blowing in off the river, balls sent to the north end of the stadium were really dying. The fourth goal from the KC Current is partially caused by LaBonta’s ball not carrying enough and Chawinga was able to track it down and create that situation. KC surely had to be aware the wind was an issue and took advantage of it. It’s going to play a part going forward. Maybe not as much as the Kellyn Acosta’s game winner in Chicago this weekend, but weird things will happen.

The KC Current are back in action this weekend, but on the road, against the San Diego Wave at 9:00 PM CST on Saturday night.

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