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What went wrong for Kansas City after the Lynn Williams trade?

(Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports)

Before the 2023 NWSL season began, the Kansas City Current looked ready to build on their run to the 2022 NWSL championship game. The team that made it all the way to the final before falling to the Portland Thorns used the offseason to add depth and looked poised to become the favorites in most matchups, rather than the plucky underdogs.

What happened instead was that the Current became the first team to be eliminated from 2023 playoff contention, likely to finish in either 11th or 12th after the final weekend of the season. A run to the Challenge Cup semifinals notwithstanding (and the organization’s continuously impressive attendance numbers), the season was a disappointment for a team that openly wants to contend for every trophy the NWSL offers.

Was the Current’s problem bad luck or execution? Or were their offseason moves just not as strong as many (myself included) believed? Let’s dive in.

The Lynn Williams trade

In one of the biggest moves of the offseason, Kansas City traded Lynn Williams to Gotham FC in January for the second pick in the 2023 NWSL draft. With the selection, the Current took 20-year-old Michelle Cooper, who was fresh off a standout sophomore season at Duke. The move shocked many, including Williams herself, but the Current had opted for a younger prospect with Williams coming off a long-term hamstring injury.

It’s not fair to directly compare a young NWSL rookie with a veteran counterpart, but Kansas City certainly missed Williams’ output in 2023. In all competitions, Williams has averaged a personal xG of 0.39 per game, scoring nine goals and registering two assists between the regular season and the Challenge Cup. Cooper, while a longer-term project, averaged a personal xG of 0.27 in all competitions, scoring four goals and notching two assists.

Williams also proved to be a distinctly important player in Gotham’s pressing system, immediately making an impact in new manager Juan Carlos Amorós’ style of play that favors one of the best defensive attackers in the league. The 30-year-old looked as comfortable as ever coming back from injury, adjusting to her role at center forward very quickly.

Cooper grew into her season, with an impressive commitment to team defending, and she’ll likely continue to develop into a clinical finisher. But the Current did not see the dividends of their major trade in the same way that Gotham benefitted in 2023.

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Lynn Williams is tied for fourth in the NWSL Golden Boot race with seven goals for Gotham in 2023. (Jonathan Jones/USA TODAY Sports)

Free agency fitness struggles

Few teams walked away from the 2023 offseason with more excitement than the Current, who were very ambitious in both their draft strategy and their free agency pick-ups. Kansas City signed Brazilian midfielder Debinha away from North Carolina, which was widely considered the biggest splash of the NWSL’s first-ever free agency period.

They also signed Vanessa DiBernardo and Morgan Gautrat out of Chicago, picked up Swedish international Hanna Glas and re-signed Canada international Desiree Scott. With NWSL clubs able to shape rosters outside of discovery signings or the college draft for the first time this past year, the Current became a team to beat before games began in 2023.

The season played out much differently, however. The Current struggled mightily with injuries: Debinha had a slow start to the season, and Dibernardo and Gautrat never got consistently healthy. Glas, coming off an ACL injury, has yet to make an appearance for the club. The injury bug also extended to other starters, including defender Elizabeth Ball, whose crucial absence resulted in a steep learning curve for a very young backline early in the season.

Kansas City boasts one of the best training facilities in women’s soccer and likely has many learnings to take into 2024 after failing to meet expectations in their third season of NWSL play.

Commitment to coaching

When Kansas City started the 2023 season 0-3, ownership made the swift decision to dismiss head coach Matt Potter, who had led the team to a surprise championship appearance the prior year. Not unlike the Williams trade, bold decision-making appeared to stem from team owners and general manager Camille Ashton. At the time, Potter’s dismissal was chalked up to results and a “lack of collaboration” when others in the front office tried to right the ship.

Assistant coach Caroline Sjöblom took over as interim manager after Potter’s departure and has been a steady presence, even if the team’s regular season results never got a significant boost from the change. Little has been said about Sjöblom’s candidacy for the permanent position once the season is over, but what has appeared to be a methodical coaching search likely also put a limit on what the team could achieve in 2023.

The team may well make a big hiring splash in the offseason — rumors have long swirled around former USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski, who won two NWSL Championships as head coach of FC Kansas City and still lives in Kansas City. But firing a head coach three games into a regular season and then riding out the rest of the year with an interim manager could also be perceived as indecision following an impulsive move.

The Current haven’t lost their potential for greatness, having shown a new resilience and reinvigorated offense in recent weeks, including a six-goal output against Chicago last weekend. But they’re also dealing with more upheaval than they could have expected at this point, with an expansion draft approaching. Whether they’ll make slight tweaks or more bold moves remains to be seen.

Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.

‘UNINTERRUPTED’s Top Class Tennis’ Debuts on Prime 

Still from tennis docuseries UNINTERRUPTED'S Top Class Tennis
'UNINTERRUPTED'S Top Class Tennis' follows four junior players as they prep for the Orange Bowl. (Amazon MGM Studios)

Prime Video is hitting the tennis court with Thursday's streaming premiere of UNINTERRUPTED's Top Class Tennis.

After four seasons of the men's high school basketball-focused Top Class: The Life and Times of The Sierra Canyon Trailblazers, athlete empowerment brand UNINTERRUPTED is expanding its purview to tennis with a new four-episode mixed-gender docuseries.

Junior tennis stars take centerstage

Behind the concept is 2017 US Open champion and world No. 45 pro Sloane Stephens, who co-executive produced the series alongside LeBron James and Maverick Carter, co-founders of UNINTERRUPTED and its production and entertainment development arm, The SpringHill Company.

Top Class Tennis follows four players on their journeys to the Orange Bowl, arguably the junior circuit’s Grand Slam equivalent. The Florida-based international tournament was established in 1947 and has crowned a long list of future pros as champions, from retired great Steffi Graf to current star Coco Gauff.

Stealing the spotlight this season is rising Harvard sophomore and 2022-23 USA Today Girls Tennis Player of the Year Stephanie Yakoff, as well as five-time junior title winner and incoming Texas freshman Ariana Anazagasty-Pursoo. Both already have WTA creds, with Yakoff featuring at the 2023 BNP Paribas Open while Anazagasty-Pursoo competed on three Grand Slam courts.

Kamilla Cardoso, Kiki Rice, Caitlin Clark, Holly Rowe and Kristen Lappas at the ESPN+ 'Full Court Press' premiere
ESPN+'s Full Court Press is one of several women's sports docs hitting the screen this year. (Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

Women's sports storms the big screen

Top Class Tennis is just the latest in what's shaping up to be a women’s sports documentary boom.

From Max's LFG about the USWNT's fight for equal pay and Netflix's Under Pressure chronicling the 2023 World Cup to ESPN+’s 2023-24 NCAA basketball series Full Court Press, athletes in women’s sports have taken streamers by storm.

UNINTERRUPTED's Top Class Tennis is available for streaming now on Prime Video

JWS Launches ‘The Gold Standard’ Hosted by Olympians Kelley O’Hara & Lisa Leslie

the gold standard logo
'The Gold Standard' is just one of three new JWS shows tackling the Summer Olympics.

Just Women's Sports announced three new digital series on Thursday, headlined by The Gold Standard, a new studio show hosted by Olympic gold medalists and women's sports icons Kelley O'Hara and Lisa Leslie.

USWNT and NWSL great O'Hara, a two-time World Cup winner and Olympic gold and bronze medalist, is teaming up with three-time WNBA MVP Lisa Leslie, herself a four-time Olympic gold medalist with Team USA, to bring viewers inside the world of Olympic women's sports. The pair will record each episode in-studio, with a series of special guests joining them throughout the show's run.

An insider's view of the Summer Games

The Gold Standard will debut on July 27th and cover the biggest women's sports stories from the Paris Olympics, giving fans a unique perspective by tapping into the insights and opinions of two legendary Olympians. 

"I know first-hand just how exciting and intense the Olympic Games can be," Leslie told JWS. "This show gives us a chance as athletes to bring fans closer to the experience, by sharing our unique insights into the Games. And with all the momentum we're seeing in women's sports, now is the perfect time to have a show dedicated to the biggest women's sports moments at the Olympic Games." 

"I can still remember watching the '96 Olympics and knowing that I wanted to be on that stage one day," says O'Hara. "Having the chance to compete in the Olympics and win gold was one of the highlights of my career. I'm looking forward to being a fan this time around and getting the chance to share my own perspective on the Games' biggest stories. Having teamed with Just Women's Sports before, I know this will be content that resonates with fans." 

The Gold Standard will live on Just Women's Sports' YouTube page, with select social cuts distributed across JWS digital platforms. The six-episode show will run through August 13th.

uswnt stars kelley o'hara and jaedyn shaw on jws digital series 1v1
1v1 with Kelley O'Hara will focus on USWNT players as they prep for the 2024 Olympics. (Just Women's Sports)

Additional series focus on USWNT's Olympic run

The Gold Standard is just one of three upcoming JWS series designed to invite fans to experience the Summer Games from an Olympian's point of view, with additional series zeroing in on the USWNT's 2024 Olympic run.

Ahead of the opening ceremony, JWS will launch the latest edition of 1v1, with host Kelley O'Hara interviewing three of her USWNT teammates: Emily Sonnett, Jaedyn Shaw, and Rose Lavelle. These peer-to-peer interviews provide a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the USWNT's preparation for their first major tournament under new manager Emma Hayes.

To round things out, JWS is also bringing back its award-winning series, The 91st. This tournament's edition will be hosted by retired USWNT star and World Cup champion Jessica McDonald alongside noted soccer personalities Jordan Angeli and Duda Pavão. The 91st will follow the USWNT as it looks to go for gold against a stacked international field at the Paris Olympics — including reigning World Cup winners Spain.

Each new digital series leans on the expertise of its accomplished hosts and special guest stars, providing fans with candid, personality-driven commentary surrounding this summer's biggest event.

Costa Rica Holds USWNT to 0-0 Draw in Frustrating Olympic Send-Off

USWNT midfielder Lindsey Horan dribbles the ball by Costa Rica forward Melissa Herrera and midfielder Gloriana Villalobos
The USWNT had 12 shots on goal on Tuesday despite failing to find the back of the net. (Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports)

The USWNT didn't quite get the going away party they were hoping for, settling for a 0-0 draw with Costa Rica on Tuesday in their final tune-up match before the 2024 Olympics kick off next week.

The US produced 26 shots — 12 on target — alongside 67 touches in the box, the most in any match where they failed to convert a single goal since at least 2015, per Opta. Yet they also faced a heroic performance from Costa Rica goalkeeper Noelia Bermúdez, who tallied 12 saves on the night.

USWNT starters remained mostly intact

After Saturday's win over Mexico, USWNT manager Emma Hayes opted for a very similar starting XI, only swapping Crystal Dunn in for Jenna Nighswonger due to load management.

Named starter Rose Lavelle was a late scratch from the lineup after team warmups, with US Soccer attributing her last-minute absence to "leg tightness." Lavelle was replaced by midfielder Korbin Albert, giving the US a slightly less aggressive attacking edge throughout the match.

Casey Krueger, Lynn Williams, Jaedyn Shaw, Emily Sonnett, and rookie Croix Bethune all got minutes in the second half, coming off the bench to contend with Washington, DC's brutally hot conditions.

USWNT forward Sophia Smith and Costa Rica midfielder Gloriana Villalobos battle for the ball
Costa Rica managed to fend off the USWNT with a strong defensive low-block. (Geoff Burke/USA TODAY)

Costa Rica's low-block spelled trouble

"Listen, if you play a game of percentages or law of averages, we're creating more and more high-quality chances, and we're getting numbers into key areas — we're getting touches in the key areas," Hayes told reporters after the match, calling attention to Costa Rica's strong defensive low-block.

"The last part's the hardest part. And I'm really patient, because I've coached teams that have to break blocks down, and it's the hardest thing to do in coaching," she continued.

Hayes also noted the team's lack of training time under her management: The decorated coach officially joined the US in early June after finishing the WSL season with her previous club, league champs Chelsea FC.

USWNT pose for a picture after their send-off friendly against costa rica at Audi Field
The USWNT's Olympic group stage run kicks off on July 25th. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Where to watch the USWNT's Olympic games

Tuesday's draw is just the second time the USWNT has entered a major tournament off a non-win. Back in 2015, the US embarked on their legendary World Cup campaign after a 0-0 send-off draw with South Korea.

The next time the USWNT takes the pitch will be at the Paris Olympics, where they'll play Zambia on Thursday, July 25th at 3 PM ET. The match will be broadcast live on USA, with streaming options available on Peacock.

The Late Sub Podcast: This Is Sophia Smith’s USWNT Attack Now

Sophia Smith dribbles during the USWNT's 1-0 win over Mexico on Saturday.
Sophia Smith scored the lone goal in the USWNT's 1-0 win over Mexico last Saturday. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

This week, JWS podcast host Claire Watkins breaks down the days leading up to the first USWNT Olympic send-off friendly, discussing player performances, things that worked well on the pitch, and what still needs developing as coach Emma Hayes's team moves towards a crucial Olympic competition set to will dictate the future of the team.

She then sets her sights on the WNBA, previewing WNBA All-Star Weekend and chatting with Gatorade Women’s Basketball Player of the Year Joyce Edwards alongside Dallas Wings forward Satou Sabally.

Subscribe to The Late Sub to never miss an episode.

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