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Matt Potter fired: What went wrong for Kansas City on the field

Kansas City parted ways with head coach Matt Potter on Wednesday, three games into the 2023 season. (Rob Kinnan/USA TODAY Sports)

On Wednesday afternoon, the Kansas City Current abruptly parted ways with second-year head coach Matt Potter. The decision was “related to issues around his leadership and employment responsibilities,” the club said in a release.

“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,” said general manager Camille Ashton. “Through our ongoing process of continuous improvement, we believe now is the right time for this change.”

Assistant coach Caroline Sjöblom will take over as interim head coach, including for the Current’s Challenge Cup opener Wednesday night against the Houston Dash.

While the terms of Potter’s termination haven’t yet been made clear, to say that Kansas City’s start to the 2023 season did not go as planned would be an understatement.

In the wake of a very active offseason, this appeared to be the year the Kansas City Current would level up. After going on an underdog run all the way to the 2022 NWSL final, the Current took the league’s first free-agency period very seriously, picking up a number of top players who tested their value on the open market.

The Current acquired Brazilian superstar Debinha and Chicago midfielders Morgan Gautrat and Vanessa DiBernardo through free agency. They followed that up by drafting USWNT U-20 forward Michelle Cooper and Virginia standout Alexa Spaanstra through the draft, and signing Swedish defender Hanna Glas. Suddenly the task at hand was to get the best out of a stacked group, rather than getting a scrappy team to punch above their weight.

Amid high expectations, Kansas City has begun the NWSL season with three losses, in which they’ve conceded nine goals while only scoring three of their own. Most recently, the Current allowed four goals apiece to the Portland Thorns and Chicago Red Stars. While the Current have time to right the ship after parting ways with their head coach, it’s also possible that an early run of bad luck could disrupt their plans for the rest of the season.

Ill-timed injury bug

One explanation for the Current’s early struggles is an obvious one: health. Kansas City began the season with Debinha, DiBernardo, Gautrat, Glas and Kristen Hamilton all out with injuries, while Desiree Scott, Claire Lavogez and Sam Mewis continue to recover from their own long-term injuries.

The Kansas City team that kicked off the 2023 season in North Carolina didn’t necessarily reflect the roster they had so painstakingly constructed, with rookies thrown into the fire instead of veterans steadily integrating into the lineup and bolstering the squad. Adding to the Current’s injury woes was the loss of defender Elizabeth Ball in the team’s first regular season game, affecting the position with the least amount of depth.

While DiBernardo and Debinha have returned to the midfield, Kansas City’s defense has had to continuously adjust to a lack of personnel. The team has relied heavily on rookie Gabby Robinson and signed undrafted defender Croix Soto recently to provide emergency depth.

Hamilton’s absence has also proved challenging, as the team has struggled to turn positive play into the payoff of goals. The Current are at their best when their midfield is set up to generate goals, a system that enabled Lo’eau Labonta to have a breakout 2022 season as both a playmaker and a goal-scorer.

As the team works their new midfield pieces onto the field, a fair amount of weight has been placed on the shoulders of rookie Michelle Cooper, who is still honing her work rate and shot generation into quality opportunities. The Kansas City frontline hasn’t had enough time to gel, and Hamilton’s eventual return could make a huge difference.

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Debinha was Kansas City's biggest free-agent acquisition this offseason. (Patrick Gorski/USA TODAY Sports)

Adjustments on the fly

With so many players missing, Potter had tinkered with his team’s formation, moving away from the high-risk, high-reward patterns of a three-back in favor of something more traditional. The team came out in their season opener in a four-back defense, progressing the ball through a fluid 4-3-3 / 4-2-3-1 formation. The system gave them the basic structure they needed while managing so many changes in personnel.

Potter admitted the changes didn’t necessarily reflect the way the Current want to play when all of their heavy-hitters are available, but the adjustments also haven’t shaped results in the way they had hoped. Hailie Mace and Kate Del Fava, who excelled last year as wingbacks pushing the team forward in attack, have focused more on defense as traditional outside backs, limiting the team’s ability to create overloads on the wings.

When the Current did move the ball quickly in their most recent match — a 4-2 loss to the Red Stars — rather than play through their formidable midfield to hold the ball and make the Red Stars chase, Kansas City stretched the game with longer passes over the top. When challenged by the Chicago defense, they committed turnovers that quickly sent the ball in the other direction and caught the Kansas City defense lacking numbers in support. Those situations led to scoring opportunities (on admittedly well-taken shots) for their opponent.

Getting away from the system that worked for them in 2022 has led to quick defensive breakdowns, including goals allowed in the first five minutes of their last two matches, and made it difficult for their attack to recover. It’s possible that shots simply need to start landing for Kansas City’s front three, but a commitment to one system might serve them better as the season progresses.

Relying on identity

Player health (to say nothing of stability at the head coaching position) will be the most significant factor in the Current beginning to turn results around. But even in this week’s loss, you could see progress being made. Debinha’s excellent chip goal after sneaking in behind the Chicago backline showed just how dangerous Kansas City’s attacking midfield can be once players get used to each other’s movements on a consistent basis.

The Current aren’t currently set up to make significant adjustments to their defense, but a never-say-die mentality combined with an ability to score in transition served the team well in 2022 and could be the key to getting back to basics. The Current are not a conservative team at heart. They might be best served abandoning the structure they’re unfamiliar with and instead letting games play out, with the belief that their midfield advantages will win out.

In other words, the Current of 2023 might benefit from looking a bit more like the Current of 2022. The team’s defense might continue to deal with moments of pressure, but getting their fire back could go a long way.

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

Nelly Korda Continues Unprecedented LPGA Run

LPGA golfer Nelly Korda poses with Mizuho Americas Open trophy
Nelly Korda took home the title at the Mizuho Americas Open on Sunday. (Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

Nelly Korda continued her unprecedented LPGA run on Sunday, winning her sixth tournament in the last seven starts. 

The 25-year-old Florida native took home the title at the Mizuho Americas Open, becoming the first LPGA player to record six wins in a single season since 2013 — and that’s with three majors and a little over half the season left to play.

"Oh, my gosh, six," Korda said after the win. "I can't even really gather myself right now with that, the head-to-head that Hannah and I had pretty much all day. Wasn't my best stuff out there today, but fought really hard on the back nine."

Korda is just the fourth player on tour to win six times before June 1st, joining LPGA Hall of Famers Babe Zaharias (1951), Louise Suggs (1953), and Lorena Ochoa (2008).

Should her victory run continue, Korda could break the current record for single-season wins, currently set at 13 by Mickey Wright in 1963.

Korda ended Sunday's tournament one shot ahead of Hannah Green, finishing the 18th with a par putt to win it all.

"I mean, to lose to Nelly kind of like is — it's sad, but then it's also Nelly Korda," Green said of her second-place finish. "You know, like she's obviously so dominant right now. To feel like second behind her is quite nice. Unfortunately the bogey on the last has a little bit of a sour taste."

Next up is the US Women’s Open, a tournament that Korda has yet to win in her career. 

"Obviously it's on the top of my priority list," she said. "I just know there is never any good when you put more pressure on yourself. Just going to stay in my bubble that week and take it a shot at a time."

Earlier this year, Korda became the fastest player to collect $2 million in prize money over a single season. This latest win earned her an additional $450,000, bringing her season total up to $2,943,708.

Caitlin Clark Signs Multi-Year Deal with Wilson, Gets Signature Basketball Collection

caitlin clark poses with wilson basketball
Clark is just the second athlete to get a signature basketball collection with Wilson. (Wilson Sporting Goods)

Caitlin Clark has signed a multi-year endorsement deal with Wilson Sporting Goods that will include a signature basketball collection, the brand announced early Tuesday. 

According to Boardroom, Clark is just the second athlete to develop a signature collection with Wilson, with the first being Michael Jordan in the 1980s. In addition to her basketball collection, she will also "test, advise and provide feedback on a range" of related products. 

Three Clark-branded white-and-gold Wilson basketballs have already dropped. Each ball features laser-cut engravings of some of the guard's most memorable moments at Iowa, where she became the all-time leading scorer in Division I college basketball history.

Three Wilson basketballs from Clark's collection have already dropped. (Wilson Sporting Goods).

"I think it is super special, and it's been fun for me," Clark told Boardroom. "I feel like I was just that young kid who had those basketballs that I would store in the garage. I'm just very lucky and fortunate to partner with Wilson to create something that everyone can enjoy. It connects with a lot of generations, and it'll be fun to see kids walking around holding them."

The No. 1 overall pick at the 2024 WNBA Draft, Clark has been building up a slate of major endorsements since turning pro. Current partnerships include Gatorade and Panini, and she’s also close to signing a signature shoe deal with Nike worth a reported $28 million.

New York Liberty off to First 4-0 Start in 17 Years

sabrina ionescu of the new york liberty on the court
Sabrina Ionescu led the undefeated Liberty to a 74-63 win over Seattle Monday night. (Evan Yu/NBAE via Getty Images)

The New York Liberty are 4-0 on the season for the first time since 2007. 

The 2023 WNBA title finalists notched a 74-63 win over Seattle on Monday night, with Sabrina Ionescu dropping 20 points alongside eight assists. After the game, Ionescu told reporters she thought the team was coming together a bit easier than they did last year.

"I think having a year together, we don't nearly have to communicate as much on the court anymore," she said. "Because we can just play off one another and read. And that's obviously been the growth of this team, is being able to play a season together last year."

The team’s defense has also contributed heavily to the season's winning start. Last night, the Liberty held Jewell Loyd to just 13 points and nine rebounds. Loyd let the Storm in scoring, with only two other players in double digits, while Nneka Ogwumike missed her second straight game with an ankle injury. 

Storm free agency acquisition Skylar Diggins-Smith had eight points, and is averaging 14.5 points and 5.8 assists per game this season. In her postgame remarks, Storm head coach Noelle Quinn called on others to give her grace in her return. 

"There needs to be respect about the fact that she's had two children and hasn’t played in 20 months," said Quinn. "She’s not going to come overnight and be who she was 20 months ago and we have to respect that and honor that. And I do.

"My grace as a coach is to know she’s working her butt off every day. You guys don’t see it. Every single day. Two children. Not one, two. Not many can do that."

Australia’s Sam Kerr Ruled Out for 2024 Paris Olympics With ACL Injury

sam kerr playing for the australian womens national team
A longtime Matildas mainstay, Kerr has made 128 appearances for Australia alongside 69 career goals. (Joe Prior/Visionhaus via Getty Images)

Australia has confirmed that captain and star striker Sam Kerr will miss the Paris Olympics due to an ACL injury suffered early this year. 

Kerr, who also stars for Chelsea, tore her ACL in January. While unlikely that she would recover in time for the Olympics, Football Australia (FA) hadn’t confirmed her status until Tuesday when the team revealed its squad for upcoming warm-up games. 

In a statement, the FA said that Kerr remained on the sidelines and will continue her rehab program at Chelsea. 

"Attacker Amy Sayer (ACL) and forward Sam Kerr (ACL) remain on the sidelines with long term injuries," the report read. "Kerr and Sayer will continue their rehabilitation programmes in their home club environments and subsequently will not be available for selection for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games."

Tuesdays 23-player squad is a "strong guide" to the final Olympic lineup, according to coach Tony Gustavsson, but others like injured midfielders Katrina Gorry and Aivi Luik could potentially figure into the conversation. 

"[They] most likely will be physically available to be part of an Olympic roster," Gustavsson said of Gorry and Luik. "This window will be a tough one for me and my staff in terms of evaluating players, where they are, and then the final selection process for Paris."

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