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Get to know OL Reign’s semifinal opponent

The Kansas City Current were at the bottom of the league in 2021. Now they’re in the NWSL playoff semifinals.

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MikeRussellFoto / Sounder at Heart

On Sunday, October 23, OL Reign will host the Kansas City Current in the 2022 NWSL playoff semifinals. The match at Lumen Field kicks off at 4:30 PM PT and will air on CBS Sports Network.

Kansas City is a compelling turnaround story this year. After finishing at the bottom of the league in 2021 and winning just three matches, the team qualified for the 2022 Challenge Cup playoffs and the 2022 NWSL playoffs, finishing the season in fifth with a 10-6-6 record. Similar to OL Reign, KC moved from a converted baseball field in 2021 to playing at Children’s Mercy Park — also home to Sporting KC. The Current also built their own training facilities and are building the first soccer stadium that’s purpose-built for an NWSL team. That waterfront stadium just broke ground and is expected to be ready for the 2024 season.

All these investments — combined with a new head coach and some savvy roster moves — have paid off on the field for the KC Current. Here’s what OL Reign fans can expect from the team’s NWSL semifinal opponent.

KC Current Formation

Kansas City plays in a 3-5-2 formation, and after a little tinkering early in the season, head coach Matt Potter has stuck with this formation for the entire NWSL season. Offensively, this 3-5-2 often morphs into a 3-4-3, with one of the attacking midfielders pushing higher up the field. Players are given a lot of freedom to move into space and solve problems from this formation, which always makes KC’s pass map a mess. But the team still stays true to their three-in-the-back lineup, regardless of where players end up when they have the ball.

The KC Current have AD Franch tending the net. Franch is a 2022 NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year nominee — along with OL Reign’s Phallon Tullis-Joyce — and an on-and-off USWNT goalkeeper. In front of her are rookie Alex Loera, Elizabeth Ball, and Kristen Edmonds as the three centerbacks. Like many rookies this year, Santa Clara graduate Loera has stepped up and settled into the league with ease. She’s a great long passer, who is at her best because she’s paired alongside two smart, veteran defenders. Starting as a holding mid last week, Loera made this line-splitting pass (0:09 in the video) that led to a penalty for the Current just three minutes into their quarterfinal match against Houston.

In the 3-5-2, wingbacks Hailie Mace and Kate Del Fava have a lot of freedom to move — depending on which space is available and who their opponent might be. Mace, who is getting more and more looks with the USWNT, often tucks into the midfield to clog this up, and both she and Del Fava have good engines that allow the team to press higher up the field when they don’t have the ball. This formation really plays to Mace’s strengths, as she’s quick, creative, can shoot from distance, and can make well-timed runs in the box.

Desiree Scott is one of the best defensive midfielders in the league. She stays further back to provide a great shield for the backline and has a high pass completion rate (81%) — often choosing the simple ball to help the team keep possession. Lo’eau LaBonta joins Scott as one of two attacking midfielders, and with seven goals and four assists is having her best season yet. She’s also inspired some great team goal celebrations, which just highlight how much fun this squad is having in 2022.

We may see CeCe Kizer drop back a line into the second attacking mid role on Sunday, as KC’s other usual starting midfielder, Claire Lavogez, came off injured in the Current’s first playoff match. Kizer is good in the air, is great with the ball at her feet, and can create as well as she can score. Even from midfield, expect her to push high when KC has the ball.

Kristen Hamilton and rookie Elyse Bennett are the likely starters up top. Hamilton is quick, makes sneaky runs in the box, and can turn quickly around defenders to get a shot off. Bennett, a WSU grad, has been coming off the bench as an impact sub, with Kizer starting in her place. However, the Lavogez injury looked like a bad one, which may push Bennett — a more direct player who can beat people on the dribble — into a starting role.

KC’s Style of Play

Here’s the most important thing you need to know about the Current: their game plan is built around winning the ball back as quickly as possible after losing it. They are disruptive and close down on backlines quickly. It was that pressure deep in their attacking half that led to KC’s second goal — in the 100th minute — last week against the Houston Dash.

Kansas City also plays at a high tempo all match, and their first thought is to attack as quickly as possible. You won’t see them try to dictate play through possession. Instead, they are looking for forward passes at all times. Around 44% of their passes are forward, compared to 39% for OL Reign.

This data from Peter McKeever with The Analyst highlights this direct, fast-paced nature. The Current led the league in the number of direct attacks (48). They had the fewest 10-pass sequences in the league and the highest direct speed — measured by how quickly a team progresses the ball upfield.

They don’t shoot or score a ton. According to American Soccer Analysis data, they are eighth in the 12-team league in shots taken (259) during the regular season and seventh in goals scored. But they know how to grind out and win matches. Nine of KC’s wins have been by just one goal.

Head coach Matt Potter, who previously scouted for U.S. Soccer and coached the US U-23 women’s squad, along with the University of Oklahoma and WSU women’s teams, has talked a lot about the importance of giving his players the autonomy to solve problems. In an interview with Meg Linehan for The Athletic, he noted how he and the training staff focus on giving their players the freedom to solve things on the field — including when to be 1-v-1, when to try to overload wide or centrally, and when to drop deeper to compact their lines.

“They always have that autonomy to manipulate shape and position to try and gain an advantage or to put themselves in a position to minimize the space of an opponent or the time the opponent has on the ball.”

Above all else, however, the Current are in the playoffs because they’ve shown they are a team that believes in themselves. They have a winning mindset that is evident across the team, not just one player on the squad. That’s a big reason, after early struggles to find the right formation and set of players, Kansas City went on a 13-game unbeaten run through the summer. During that time, they beat or drew level with every team in the league — well, with one caveat. Their 1-1 draw against the Thorns came right after their streak was broken with an uncharacteristic 4-0 loss to Chicago.

Sam Hiatt touched on this mentality in a conversation earlier this week with Ride of the Valkyries, noting that Kansas City “has a really great team mentality, and I think they’ve shown that throughout the year honestly. You could kind of see, even just from the outside looking in, it seems that they have a really unified mentality and are all working for each other.”

KC has come from behind seven times this regular season to earn a draw or win. Fortunately, OL Reign has done the exact same thing seven times, as well. The Reign cultivated a very similar winning mindset this year. It should be a tough battle for both sides.

By the Numbers

  • OL Reign went 1-1-0 against Kansas City this year, winning 1-0 at home in May before falling 1-0 to the Current on the road in July with their international players absent. It’s been a long time since the two sides have faced each other. Here are highlights from that July loss, which shows how vertical KC plays — with long balls to the frontline followed by quick passing around the box — and how much work they do to win penalties. It also shows a few chances that the Reign could have buried to bring this level.
  • KC scored 29 goals while allowing 29 this season. In comparison, OL Reign scored 32 goals while allowing 19.
  • The Current had 188 shots from open play and scored 17 goals from open play, along with seven set-piece goals (plus six more goals scored on penalties). The Reign had 266 shots from open play and 23 open-play goals, along with six set-piece goals.
  • Only six players have scored during the regular season for Kansas City. LaBonta and Kizer lead the team with seven goals apiece, followed by Hamilton (6), Mace (4), Bennett (3), and Lavogez (2).
  • Goalkeeper AD Franch has a 1.24 goals-against average per game. She’s made 70 saves, which puts her second in the league.

How to Watch

OL Reign will kick off against the KC Current on Sunday, October 23, at 4:30 PM PT. The match will air on CBS Sports Network for fans in the U.S. and will stream Twitch for international viewers. Due to the demand for tickets, OL Reign just opened up more seats at Lumen Field and expects to at least double the club’s standalone attendance record.

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