It’s been an unpredictable season for Kansas City NWSL’s back line, to say the least.
The first-year team hasn’t fielded the same starting back four for more than two games in a row, which is largely due to injury, plus Katie Bowen’s absence at the Tokyo Olympics with New Zealand. The last two games have seen Mallory Weber, Rachel Corsie, Kristen Edmonds and Kiki Pickett start, and it looks like that lineup might be there to stay.
Despite the 2-0 loss Sunday afternoon at Portland (8-3-1), the game against the Thorns felt much closer, and Kansas City head coach Huw Williams felt his team battled the whole game.
“Never happy when you lose, that’s for sure, but let’s just say I’m not as disappointed as I have been some other performances this year,” Williams said. “My thought at halftime was that our crossing was more hopeful crosses, instead of really believing in ourselves in the attacking third, having the confidence to take people on 1-v-1 and then finding the path for maybe the tap-in goal.
“So just got to be more clinical more determined and more assured, I guess in the attacking third.”
There were moments of clear disorganization on the back line for KC NWSL, but with so much turnover, it would be a lot to expect flawless communication between the back four and goalkeeper. To their credit, they also had many more moments where they looked like the strongest back four Kansas City has fielded all season, and the adjustment of Edmonds to center back has been a solid change.
“Certainly not by choice,” Williams said of the inconsistent lineups. “We’ve asked Kristen Edmonds to play numerous roles for us and (she) has done a very good job in that. Decisions on lineups will be based on healthy bodies throughout next week and putting the lineup we think that will be best suited to win to get three points against Louisville.”
Their two staples all season have been Corsie, who’s started all but one game, and Edmonds, who has started 12 — two in a row at center back. Eight other players have made appearances, but with Pickett fully healthy and Weber signing a two-year extension, there might finally be a consistent starting back line going forward.
“I think we’ve shown that we’ve had depth in the back line, I think there’s been a number of players have stepped in and performed well,” Corsie said. “For me, and Kris, I think one of the important things of partnership is that we get on so well on and off the field. We’re just really passionate about the game in general, we want to improve and we’ll work really hard ... I think there’s there’s a lot of promise for us in the games ahead.”
Plus, four different goalkeepers have started throughout the year. Katelyn Rowland made her first start for Kansas City on Sunday, and had an excellent game. She had a bit of bad luck with an early own goal that was deflected off Edmonds. The second goal was deflected in by Portland’s Marissa Everett from just yards away off a ball whipped into the box by Sophia Smith.
She made key difficult saves that held the No. 1 team in the league to two goals. She was also solid with the ball at her feet and played well with the back line, especially given that she’s been playing with them for barely over a week after being traded to Kansas City on July 22.
“I think she’s done exceptionally well, to have that fast transition and to have stepped in today,” Corsie said. “It was a great start for her and there’s a lot more to come. For us in front of her, it’s reassuring when you have somebody behind you who can come in and perform the way she did. Today was not the result we wanted, but there’s a lot we can take from it. There’s a lot of promise about how we performed.”
The fact that Kansas City was shut out for the eighth time this season was purely due to Portland goalkeeper Bella Bixby, who made an unbelievable one-handed diving save at the beginning of the match. She was tested by consistent attacks in the first half by Kansas City, who had 11 shots, two on goal.
Kristen Hamilton and Hailie Mace both started up top for Kansas City and were incredibly dynamic, creating several quality chances. Their high press and Hamilton’s ability to stretch the Portland back line made Kansas City look like a new offense. That energy was largely missing in the second half, though Kansas City was able to stave off Portland’s attacks and keep it 2-0 on the road.
KC NWSL drops to 0-8-4 in its inaugural season, still looking for its first win. Williams said the first win will be “a load off this coach’s back.”
“It’ll do a lot, it will do a lot for the person you’re talking to right now, that’s for sure,” Williams said. “But the attitude in practice last week, it’s tough to say that it could be much better. The the intensity, the vibe, the new players that have come on board — there is a belief in there, nobody’s kind of left the bus here and doesn’t believe in ourselves.”
Kansas City is on the road again in Louisville on Aug. 8, their second of six games this month.