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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.

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.