Cece Kizer was traded to the Houston Dash by Kansas City on Wednesday in a move that she says came as a surprise.

While Kizer began her NWSL career with the Dash, she’d played the last two seasons with the Kansas City Current. Kizer is a native of Kansas, having been born in Overland Park. In 35 matches with the Current, Kizer had 13 goals and three assists.

In return for Kizer, the Current received Nichelle Price.

Following the trade announcement, Kizer took to social media to express her disappointment and frustration.

“There has been so much excitement about not only this team but me finally being back home,” Kizer wrote. “I can’t even put into words the joy I have felt playing in front of family/friends every home game. It was always a dream of mine to represent my city at this level and it breaks my heart it comes to an abrupt end.

“This isn’t something I asked for or expected. No conversation this could happen. Nothing. My fiancé and I have a home here, we have a life off the pitch, and now we have a week to pack it all up & say our goodbyes. It hurts this happened after I expressed my desire to be apart of more KC history, but thank you for the last year & a half.”

Kizer isn’t the first Current player to be traded without their knowledge. Last year, Lynn Williams was traded to Gotham FC during the NWSL draft, which came as a shock to many – including Williams.

Former U.S. women’s national team manager Vlatko Andonovski received multiple job offers from the MLS and abroad before agreeing to become the coach of the Kansas City Current.

On Monday, Andonovski was named coach and sporting director of the Current, marking his return to the NWSL. According to Andonovski, he also had offers from MLS clubs, other NWSL clubs and other national teams.

“It’s not a secret that I did have offers from the NWSL. I had offers from MLS — it was mainly assistant coaching positions in MLS and even internationally from different national teams,” he said.

Ultimately, Andonovski decided to stay in Kansas City, where he says the community helped to lift him up after his disappointing showing at the World Cup and subsequent resignation from the USWNT. Andonovski previously coached former NWSL club FC Kansas City, winning two titles in 2014 and 205.

“Like I said, the moment that I talked to the ownership group here and they shared their vision and goals for this team, I think that it was very clear to me where I want to be and what I want to do in the future,” he said.

When the Kansas City Current announced they had hired former U.S. women’s national team manager Vlatko Andonovski as their head coach on Monday, reactions were understandably mixed. Andonovski is a coach with an impressive NWSL resume, who nonetheless returns to the league with failures to answer for at his most recent position.

Andonovski currently represents two conflicting reputations: a championship-winning NWSL coach returning to his roots, and the coach who oversaw the worst World Cup finish in U.S. women’s national team history.

Kansas City’s leadership has faith that Andonovski’s ability to shape a roster with more time and communication than was afforded to him at the international level will pay dividends at the club level. There’s no reason to believe that this can’t be a successful partnership, but a few questions do remain.

Where he can turn things around

The Current had an exciting offseason in 2023, looking to create the right balance of veterans and young talent to turn their high-flying attack into a team that can control matches on both sides of the ball. But the season didn’t play out the way they intended. Injuries to top free agents and a few core defenders set Kansas City on the wrong path early, and the quick dismissal of coach Matt Potter did not do much to turn things around.

Based on his time in the NWSL, Andonovski is a good fit to take on the Current project due to a number of strengths. One is in his emphasis on defense, something he can point to as a bright spot of the USWNT’s World Cup campaign. His FC Kansas City championship teams were anchored by Becky Sauerbrunn in her prime, and he maintained the Reign’s defensive integrity in the face of many injuries during his short stint there.

While his strategic pragmatism didn’t always pan out on the world stage, with more time to implement his approach, Andonovski has the opportunity again to create one of the stingier teams in the NWSL. That focus will be welcome in Kansas City, whose hyper-attacking 3-5-2 of 2022 turned into a less effective 4-3-3 in 2023. The team struggled to close out matches without conceding, even as the attack found its footing later in the year.

Andonovski also identified his intended creative playmakers in his introductory press conference. He specifically mentioned Debinha, Michelle Cooper and Lo’eau Labonta as the types of players he wants to have the freedom to create chances. While Labonta and Debinha are seasoned NWSL veterans, Andonovski clearly has a vision for the rookie Cooper. That suggests he wants to retain cohesion in a roster that might otherwise go through some swift changes in the offseason.

Andonovski (and general manager Camille Ashton) will have to attempt to re-balance what has turned into a talented but aging and oft-injured roster. The team carried contracts for players like Sam Mewis, Desiree Scott and Hanna Glas, all of whom are incredibly dangerous players on their best day, but none saw the field in 2023. Morgan Gautrat and Vanessa DiBernardo were similarly unavailable throughout the season.

Andonovski was known for his ability to maintain steady results in the face of absences with the Reign. He’ll have a similar project to tackle in Kansas City, particularly with expansion on the horizon in 2024.

You can’t always go home again

A major point of emphasis in Andonovski’s hiring is that Kansas City is his home and a place where he has been entrenched in the local women’s soccer community for many years. While his familiarity is certainly an asset, it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s destined for success in a second stint, albeit with a new club structure.

USWNT dialogue after the World Cup indicated that players didn’t always feel like they had a set style of play, nor were their roles within the team always clearly communicated. From the outside, Andonovski also seemed to freeze tactically in big games and when evaluating talent, presenting a very different image from the calm mind that had such success in the NWSL. It’s possible that he’ll feel more freedom to implement his plans in Kansas City, but his transformative experience at the helm of the U.S. might be something he needs to shake off rather than carry with him.

Andonovski’s appointment is also interesting in the context of a very similar coaching hiring and firing this past year. After the Washington Spirit struggled on the field while dealing with upheaval off of it in 2022, team owner Michele Kang sought out former coach Mark Parsons. Parsons had coached the Spirit in the early days of his NWSL tenure and returned to the club after winning trophies in Portland. In between his NWSL stints, he also had a disappointing run as coach of the Netherlands national team. Parsons’ return made immediate waves, and he was given a fair amount of control of the Spirit’s roster. He notably traded USWNT mainstay Emily Sonnett to OL Reign on draft day before the 2023 season.

Parsons oversaw an improved Spirit season, but one that finished in heartbreak after a Trinity Rodman red card and a loss to the North Carolina Courage on Decision Day cost the team a playoff spot. Nonetheless, it seemed that Washington had their high-profile coach and a foundation to build upon, so long as they trusted in the process. Then last week, Parsons was dismissed in the aftermath of the team’s inability to reach the postseason.

The story of Parsons and the Spirit is certainly a pattern that Andonovski will want to avoid, and it can serve as a warning. Ambitious ownership with the pockets to compete for national team coaches will want the results that come along with their investments. Potter’s quick dismissal as Current head coach earlier this year indicates similarly high expectations for a club that was the first to be eliminated from playoff contention this year.

Giving Andonovski the benefit of the doubt that he’s a coach who thrives in long-term processes with the day-to-day duties of a club manager makes sense. But Parsons’ experience in Washington also lays bare that the right fit isn’t always a place where you have history.

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

Vlatko Andonovski is the new head coach of the Kansas City Current, the club announced Monday.

The move represents a homecoming for Andonovski, 47, who served as the head coach of the NWSL’s former Kansas City club for five seasons and still lives in the area. He resigned in August as head coach of the U.S. women’s national team.

In his stint as USWNT head coach, he led the team to a 51-9-5 record (W-D-L), but his record at major tournaments was 3-5-2. He stepped down after leading the team to a disappointing Round of 16 exit at the 2023 World Cup, the earliest ever for the USWNT.

“While we are all disappointed by the outcome at this year’s World Cup, I am immensely proud of the progress this team has made, the support they’ve shown for each other, and the inspiration they’ve provided for players around the world,” he said in the news release announcing his departure.

Andonovski became head coach of the national team after a successful NWSL career, in which he accumulated a 64-36-39 record across seven seasons. He coached OL Reign from 2018 through 2019, and before that he led FC Kansas City from 2013 through 2017, when the team ceased operations. He won NWSL titles with FC Kansas City in 2014 and 2015.

FC Kansas City’s assets were transferred to the Utah Royals, which played in the NWSL from 2018 to 2020. At that point, the Royals ceased operations, and the assets were transferred to a new Kansas City expansion team: the Current.

The Current made a run to the NWSL Championship match in 2022, though they lost to the Portland Thorns in the title game. But they finished 11th out of 12 teams in 2023 after firing head coach Matt Potter just three games into the season. Andonovski takes the reins from interim head coach Caroline Sjöblom.

“We are thrilled to welcome Vlatko to the Current,” Kansas City Current co-owners Angie Long and Chris Long said in a news release. “We talk all the time about our desire to be the best women’s football club in the world, with Vlatko that brings us one step closer to that goal. His football acumen and his penchant for developing talent will keep this team competitive on the world stage and make Kansas City a destination club for players across the world.”

In the team’s release, Andonovski called Kansas City “home.”

“This club is very ambitious, and they have an ownership group willing to do what it takes to meet their goals. I am grateful to Angie, Chris, Brittany and Patrick for this opportunity to lead my hometown team,” he said. “The fans here have always been passionate, and it has been so exciting to see them grow and make Kansas City one of the best atmospheres in the NWSL, and it will only get better in the new stadium.”

Former Angel City FC head coach Freya Coombe is in line to become Andonovski’s top assistant with the Current, the Washington Post’s Steven Goff reported.

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.

Sophia Smith criticized the NWSL’s response to Alex Morgan’s comments about the officiating in a game over the weekend. The league issued a fine to the San Diego Wave forward on Wednesday for violating the “Prejudicial Statements and Public Criticism” section of the operations manual, which amounts to a $500 fine.

On Sunday, Morgan called out the refereeing in San Diego’s 2-1 loss to Kansas City after she sustained an injury from a hard tackle in Saturday’s match. Posting a video from the incident, the 34-year-old questioned the non-call after Kansas City’s Stine Ballisager slide tackled her in the box in stoppage time.

“In what world is this not a penalty and red card, or even foul? Completely reckless and the leg going in for the tackle doesn’t even get a ball when I cut her?” Morgan wrote. “Just glad I saw her coming and didn’t plant on that leg or I’d 100% not be walking today.”

Smith, Morgan’s NWSL opponent and teammate on the U.S. women’s national team, took issue with the fine, calling it “backwards” and a reflection of “messed up” priorities.

Morgan’s coach, Casey Stoney, has also been fined twice this season for criticizing NWSL referees.

After Morgan limped off the field following the tackle on Saturday, the extent of her injury remains unclear.

The NWSL Challenge Cup semifinals are almost here, with four teams set to face off on Wednesday for a spot in Saturday’s championship game.

This will reportedly be the last iteration of the Challenge Cup, with the NWSL planning to abandon the tournament in 2024, according to The Equalizer. Thus, Kansas City, North Carolina, OL Reign and Racing Louisville are all looking to win what could be the final Challenge Cup in NWSL history.

Semifinal #1: Kansas City Current vs. North Carolina Courage

Wednesday @ 8 p.m. ET (CBS Sports Network)

The Current and Courage are both going into their Challenge Cup semifinal matchup with some lumps. Kansas City is 1-1 in its last two games after a big 1-0 win over OL Reign on Aug. 18, while North Carolina has gone winless in its last four games. The Courage were on the verge of a win against Gotham FC on Saturday, before they squandered a two-goal lead late to draw 3-3.

In the Challenge Cup, North Carolina put on a clinic in back-to-back games in July — a 6-0 win over the Spirit and a 5-0 win over Orlando.

Still, recent history appears to favor Kansas City. The teams are tied 1-1 in their regular season series, with the Current taking the most recent game. Veteran forward Kristen Hamilton also came up big for the 2022 NWSL runners-up in their last Challenge Cup game, scoring a brace in a 3-0 win over Racing Louisville.

Prediction: Kansas City 2, North Carolina 1

Semifinal #2: OL Reign vs. Racing Louisville

Wednesday @ 10 p.m. ET (CBS Sports Network)

Racing Louisville is riding high heading into their semifinal match against OL Reign. They haven’t lost a game since a 3-0 Challenge Cup defeat to Kansas City on Aug. 5, and they haven’t lost an NWSL regular season game since June. On Saturday, they came from behind to defeat No. 2 Portland 2-1. With most of their players back from the World Cup, Racing Louisville could be a surprise contender in the Challenge Cup.

OL Reign, meanwhile, lost three in a row before beating the Orlando Pride on Saturday. After registering wins over San Diego and Portland in the Challenge Cup, they enter the knockout rounds as the No. 1 seed.

Each game between Louisville and OL Reign this season resulted in a 2-2 draw, so expect this to be an even matchup and a game that goes down to the wire.

Prediction: OL Reign 2, Racing Louisville 2 (LOU wins on penalties 4-3)

Championship: Racing Louisville vs. Kansas City

Saturday @ 12:30 p.m. ET (CBS)

Kansas City has the knockout-round pedigree, but Racing Louisville has the momentum and could ride it all the way to the Challenge Cup trophy. Louisville will lean on the USWNT’s Savannah DeMelo and Jaelin Howell to set the tone in the midfield and spur the attack in a hard-fought game.

Prediction: Racing Louisville 1, Kansas City 0

MVP pick: Savannah DeMelo

Tennis star Ons Jabeur is joining the North Carolina Courage as a minority owner, the club announced Friday.

In doing so, Jabeur joins a long list of athletes who have invested in NWSL clubs, including Naomi Osaka, Patrick Mahomes, Serena Williams and Sue Bird.

These stars are putting their money into a booming league. The 2022 NWSL final drew 915,000 viewers, a 71% increase from the 2021 final. And franchise valuations have skyrocketed: The Washington Spirit sold for $35 million in February; Gotham FC were valued at $40 million in August; and the Portland Thorns were valued at $60 million ahead of their upcoming sale.

Just Women’s Sports highlights some of the NWSL’s top athlete investors during the 2023 season.

Angel City FC

The Los Angeles-based club features a long roster of investors, including NFL quarterback Matthew Stafford, his wife Kelly and their daughters.

“We fell in love with attending an Angel City game last season and wanted our daughters to experience something so important and powerful first-hand,” Matthew and Kelly Stafford said in a news release.

The list of investors includes many former U.S. women’s national team players, including Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Abby Wambach, Shannon Boxx, Rachel Buehler, Lauren Cheney Holiday, Lorrie Fair Allen, Ronnie Fair Sullins, Joy Fawcett, Shannon MacMillan, Angela Hucles Mangano and Saskia Webber.

Retired tennis players Serena Williams, Billie Jean King and Ilana Kloss, two-time WNBA champion Candace Parker, former USMNT player Cobi Jones, former NHL defender P.K. Subban, U.S. Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn, U.S. Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson East and former NFL long snapper Andrew East also are investors.

Chicago Red Stars

Chicago Cubs co-owner Laura Ricketts and her investor group have reached an agreement to buy the Red Stars.

The group includes Angela Barnes, chief legal officer of IDEO; Debra Cafaro, chairman and CEO of Ventas and a partner in the Pittsburgh Penguins ownership group; Jessica Droste Yagan, CEO of Impact Engine; Jennifer Pritzker, president and CEO of TAWANI Enterprises; and Sidney Dillard, a partner at Chicago’s Loop Capital.

Houston Dash

NBA star James Harden joined the ownership group for the Dash and their MLS counterpart, the Houston Dynamo, in July 2019. While the 2018 NBA MVP and 10-time All-Star plays for the Philadelphia 76ers in the 2022-23 season, he played for the Houston Rockets from 2012-21.

Gotham FC

The New York City-area team pulled in several big-name investors in 2022, among them former USWNT and Gotham forward Carli Lloyd, four-time WNBA champion Sue Bird, two-time NBA champion Kevin Durant and two-time Super Bowl champion Eli Manning.

Kansas City Current

Patrick Mahomes will join his wife Brittany and Current co-owners Angie and Chris Long as an investor in the club, which enters 2023 looking to build on its 2022 NWSL championship appearance.

“I am excited to join another championship-caliber club as it continues to make history,” the 2018 NFL MVP and 2020 Super Bowl MVP said in a statement.

North Carolina Courage

Naomi Osaka invested in the Courage in 2021. The 25-year-old tennis star is a four-time major singles champion and topped Forbes’ list of the highest-paid female athletes in the world with $51.1 million in earnings in 2022. Fellow tennis star Ons Jabeur joined Osaka as an investor in the Courage in August 2023.

“Soccer and female empowerment are my main passions outside of tennis,” Jabeur said. “When Naomi took an equity stake in the Courage, I asked her if she would give me a starting position as a striker, but she said no… so I did the next best thing and become an owner. The Courage are the perfect club for me in terms of shared values and ambitions, both on and off the field.”

OL Reign

Former NBA point guard Tony Parker, who played for the San Antonio Spurs from 2001-18 and for the Charlotte Hornets from 2018-19, holds a minority stake in the Seattle-based club.

Washington Spirit

Former USWNT goalkeeper Briana Scurry and U.S. Olympic gymnast Dominique Dawes joined the Spirit as minority investors in 2021.

The group stage of the NWSL Challenge Cup is complete, and only four teams remain.

The two finalists will be determined Sept. 6, when the Kansas City Current play the North Carolina Courage and OL Reign face Racing Louisville in the semifinals.

Teams will ideally have their international players back from the World Cup for the Challenge Cup knockout rounds. The World Cup final takes place on Sunday, Aug. 20, two days after the NWSL regular season resumes and two and a half weeks before the Challenge Cup semifinals.

Here is a guide to the NWSL knockout games.

Kansas City Current vs. North Carolina Courage

Sept. 6 at 8 p.m. ET (CBS Sports Network)

Kansas City shut out Racing Louisville 3-0 in their final match in the group stage to clinch the Challenge Cup Central Division title for the second straight year, with a record of 4-1-1.

North Carolina, meanwhile, won the East Division with a 3-1-2 record despite falling to Gotham FC 2-0 in their final match of group play.

OL Reign vs. Racing Louisville FC

Sept. 6 at 10 p.m. ET (CBS Sports Network)

The Reign became the first team in tournament history to not allow a single goal in group play. The team went 4-0-2 in the group stage to win the West Division.

Louisville secured the most points (12) among second-place finishing teams in the group stage, finishing 4-2.

Challenge Cup Final

Sept. 9 at 12:30 p.m. ET (CBS)

The winners of each semifinal game will meet in the championship three days later. The Courage are the reigning Challenge Cup champions, while the other semifinalists have never before hoisted the trophy.

Sam Mewis offered an inside look into her recovery process six months after her second surgery for a lingering knee issue.

The U.S. women’s national team and Kansas City Current midfielder has been sidelined since August 2021 with the injury, but she shared an update Tuesday on Instagram.

“6 months today!” Mewis wrote alongside a video showcasing her rehabilitation work and weight-lifting exercises. Most notable is the lower body work Mewis showed off in the video, which included deadlifts and lunges and points to Mewis regaining range of motion and strength in her right knee.

The 30-year-old starred at the 2021 Olympics for the USWNT, but then she underwent arthroscopic surgery after the tournament. At the time, she was expected to miss six to eight weeks.

Mewis played two NWSL Challenge Cup games for the Current in March 2022 but has not taken the pitch since then due to what the club has described as a “progressive injury to her right leg.”

In January, USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski said he didn’t know what Mewis’ timeline would be. She had her second surgery in the same month. “At this point, I don’t want to guess what the time is or if she is going to be back at all,” he said.

Recently, she spoke with GOAL about the recovery process, noting that she wants to get back to playing soccer if she can. But right now, she’s taking rehab “one day at a time.”

“Obviously, I haven’t played in a while,” she said. “I’m just doing my rehab and taking it one day at a time, but I think my message is just in moments like that, in moments of difficulty, just try to find that new purpose, if you can, and apply yourself to that.”