If you ask Kansas City Current players to tell you how their worst Cinderella story began, they’ll probably point their calendars to nine months ago — February 2022.
The new-look unit left behind four weeks of snowy, 40-degree weather and headed to the Sunshine State, setting up camp at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., just south of Tampa Bay.
“In the preseason, I kept saying, ‘Something’s different,'” Current linebacker Kristen Edmonds said On Her Turf ahead of Saturday’s NWSL Championship game with the Portland Thorns. “We went to Florida for a month and in the first few days I felt like there was something completely different for me this season.
There have been clear changes: the new CEO v Camille Levin Ashtonnew head coach Matt Potterand sensational additions by USWNT stars Sam Mewis and Lynn Williams.
“We were together all the time. We had meetings in the morning, we trained, we ran together, we started this crazy new lifting program,” said the eight-year NWSL veteran Lo’eau LaBonta. “…I think because we started from scratch and everyone bought into us, it was very easy to build a successful team.”
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“Honestly, this [was] the hardest preseason I’ve ever had in my entire career,” added Edmonds, who joined the NWSL in 2014. “I don’t know exactly what it was because there were days where I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m dead . I need a day off. I need an extra day off.”… But just being in a group and being together all the time and just the vibes I was getting. It just felt like we had something special, and obviously we did.”
“After last year, we came up with something to prove,” the midfielder said Addie McCain, who joined Kansas City as a rookie in 2021. “So it felt like a fresh start. Everyone seemed to take what the new staff had to offer and it paid off quite well.”
To say their efforts paid off is an understatement. Just one season ago, the club started the 2021 campaign with the generic name “KC NWSL” after new owners took over. Playing at KC’s remodeled baseball field, they went winless in their first 17 games (including four Challenge Cup games) and didn’t secure a win until mid-August when they beat the OL Reign 1-0. They finished the season at the bottom of the 10-team NWSL standings, going 3-14-7.
But according to Potter, who helped conceptualize the Stream’s new identity from the jump, the club hasn’t let last year’s struggles get in the way of this year’s opportunities.
“That goes back to the preseason where we probably spent more time figuring out what the identity is that we want the Kansas City Current to look like on and off the field,” he said.
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However, the 2022 NWSL season got off to a rocky start. After a solid pre-season run landed the Current in the semi-finals of the Challenge Cup, KC faced the regular season without any of their star signings when Mewis (knee) and Williams (right hamstring and hip) were both sidelined with season-ending injuries. The Current went their first five games without a win, including a 3-0 win over the Thorns in the regular season opener.
With Mewis and Williams on the sidelines, other players stepped up.
“It’s not a starting 11. We literally have a starting 20. Anyone can fall there,” LaBonta said. “We call them gamechangers, not subs.
The tide began to turn on Memorial Day weekend when KC picked up its first win of the season, a 1-0 victory over Racing Louisville. The triumph kicked off a 13-game unbeaten streak that has pushed the Current into NWSL Shield contention into September.
The unbeaten streak (the second-longest in NWSL history) was snapped in June by a move to the team’s $18 million practice facility, which the owners said was all privately funded. Angie and Chris Long and co-owner Brittany Mahomeswhich he founded the team in December 2020. An 11,500-seat stadium is being commissioned for the 2024 season, which is the first stadium designed specifically for the US women’s soccer team.
“Obviously, with the not-so-great season last year, I think a lot of people wouldn’t have thought we could get here,” the midfielder said. Desiree Scott, who played with both previous iterations of the club (Kansas City FC, Utah Royals). “But as the season went on … I think our belief kept growing with our winning streaks, just the way we played … We thought we could get here and here we are.
The Current finished the regular season 10-6-6, dropping to fifth in the standings, but qualifying for their first NWSL playoffs. They earned their spot in the final with a 2-0 win over OL Reign, this year’s NWSL Shield winners. On Saturday night, the Current will face a formidable foe in Portland, who are playing for their fourth NWSL championship and have won twice before (2013, 2017).
“They’ve definitely found joy in what they do and we’re trying to get better every day. So if you’re experiencing these things, then it’s just another opportunity to believe that we can go on and do great things. That’s what we’re preparing for and hopefully that will show (Saturday) night,” Potter said.
“I think the whole group is thinking, ‘Why not us? Why can’t we be the ones to win it all? We’re here,” repeated the NWSL rookie defender Alex Loera.
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On Her Turf editor Alex Azzi contributed to this report.