Since moving on from head coach Matt Potter, the Kansas City Current have won three straight by scoring six goals and conceding none. Prior to his removal, the Current lost their first three matches, conceding four goals in two of the three. Results seem to already suggest that the move paid off, but things might not be that simple.
Results are one thing, and with the benefit of three wins on the bounce it can seem an open and shut case. But when finally questioned about the decisions, general manager Camille Ashton avoided offering details. The only thing definitive was that nothing nefarious occurred (always a consideration given the recent past in the NWSL).
Prior to addressing the media three days after the announcement, Ashton is quoted in the statement of his release saying, “We watch the play on the pitch, we keep a pulse on the locker room, and we are constantly evaluating ways to improve our club.”
Given that the announcement came just hours before the Current’s first Challenge Cup game, that left the players speaking postgame as the first representatives from the club to speak.
Despite the “pulse of the locker room” comment, Cece Kizer and Lo’eau LaBonta noted that they weren’t aware of any problems with Potter, weren’t consulted, and were surprised by his removal.
Kansas City’s post 2022 offseason will go down in NWSL history books as one of the league’s best, but also led to a bit of a cross-your-fingers approach for their defense. Now, after a couple key injuries, we may have enough evidence to debunk the theory that crossing fingers repels catastrophe.
Defender Kristen Edmonds signed with Gotham FC in the offseason, then Current defenders Elizabeth Ball and Alex Loera suffered injuries that have kept them out since the first and second games of the season, respectively. Even last year’s defensive midfield stalwart, Desiree Scott (aka Des the Destroyer), has yet to play a minute this season.
This left the Current with a vulnerability in the one area in which they were already thin. Young defenders Gabrielle Robinson and Croix Soto were signed, but finding cohesion was always going to take time, especially without key veteran presences to help organize and direct the unit.
Last season’s cohesion curated by Potter, along with human energy source Lo’eau LaBonta, was vital to the Current’s success in their run to the championship game. They won games by morphing into whatever they needed to be to frustrate or take advantage of opponents. This malleability made them comfortable with 1-0 wins, but also the chaos of 3-2 or 4-3 scorelines.
While interim head coach Caroline Sjöblom deserves credit for making some tweaks and decisions, it’s hard to definitively state that this turnaround wouldn’t have come under Potter as well.
Not only had this sort of turnaround happened under his watch before, but key players like star free agents Debinha and Vanessa DiBernardo are fully fit and settling into the team. Also, young defenders Gabrielle Robinson and Soto have turned a corner in their performances as they’ve gotten more comfortable.
Kansas City will also have Swedish defender Hanna Glas and former USWNT midfielder Morgan Gautrat available for selection, which will further elevate the ceiling of their starting XI.
Last season was Matt Potter’s first year in charge of Kansas City. The year prior they finished at the bottom of the table, with just three wins. In 2022, Potter’s Current also started poorly, suffering four losses and a draw before their first win.
That win kicked off a 13-match unbeaten run (nine wins, four draws) that helped propel them into the playoffs, where they shocked Houston Dash and OL Reign to make it to the championship game.
Given history plus the success in recruitment during the offseason, this sort of turnaround was expected by most people who cover the league. It’s too early to say whether Ashton’s quick trigger shook things up and made the difference, or if the move was borne of impatience and will show when/if the playoffs roll back around.