One season removed from a last place finish in the National Women’s Soccer League, the No. 5 Kansas City Current are in the NWSL Championship.
Standing between the Current’s quest to seal the greatest single-season turnaround in league history with a championship is the No. Portland Thorns, who Kansas City faces at Audi Field in Washington, D.C. Saturday, Oct. 29. Saturday’s match kicks off at 7 p.m. and will be nationally televised on CBS. The match will also be streamed on Paramount+.
Kansas City picked up yet another road playoff victory last weekend, handing the No. 1 OL Reign just its second home loss across all competitions in 2022 last Sunday at Lumen Field. The Current’s 2-0 victory was a quintessential team display of timely offense, stout defense and excellent goalkeeping.
For the second consecutive match the Current took an early lead, as rookie defender Alex Loera opened the scoring in the fourth minute. Kansas City goalkeeper A.D. Franch made several spectacular saves over the remainder of the contest to maintain the team’s one-goal advantage, and forward Kristen Hamilton provided the insurance goal in the 63rd minute. The shutout victory tied Franch with former Kansas City goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart for the most playoff shutouts in NWSL history. Franch had seven saves in the semifinal victory, eclipsing Barnhart for the most playoff saves in league history.
Portland reached the NWSL Championship in thrilling fashion, defeating the San Diego Wave 2-1 in a come-from-behind effort at Providence Park last Sunday. San Diego went up early after midfielder Taylor Kornieck broke free from Portland’s back line and headed in a cross from San Diego forward Alex Morgan in the eighth minute.
The Thorns responded quickly, as forward Rocky Rodríguez volleyed in a thunderous strike from outside the penalty area to level the match in the 21st minute. Neither team could break through for the next 70 minutes of action, but Portland found a winner in second-half stoppage time when midfielder Crystal Dunn hammered home a loose ball in the penalty area. Dunn’s goal, her first of the 2022 campaign, proved to be the game-winner as the Thorns advanced to their fourth NWSL Championship in franchise history.
Current win despite injuries
Head coach Matt Potter praised the Current’s overall depth following the victory over OL Reign, and for good reason. Forward Claire Lavogez suffered a season-ending knee injury in Kansas City’s first-round playoff victory over the Houston Dash and forward Cece Kizer exited last weekend’s match in the first half with a head injury, which could have left the Current in a difficult position.
However, Kansas City didn’t miss a beat without two of its most productive attackers. Both of their fill-ins made massive contributions in last Sunday’s semifinal that helped send the Current to the NWSL Championship.
Loera started in Lavogez’s place in midfield and made an immediate effect on the match, opening the scoring with a goal in the fourth minute. The Thornton, Colorado, native reacted well to a loose ball in the penalty area and slotted it past OL Reign goalkeeper Phallon Tullis-Joyce to give the Current a 1-0 lead. Loera’s go-ahead finish marked her first goal since the 2022 Challenge Cup, and she played 85 minutes in the win.
Another Current rookie, forward Elyse Bennett, entered the match on the stroke of halftime for Kizer. In her second lengthy substitute appearance of the 2022 postseason, Bennett helped seal victory for Kansas City in the second half. In the 63rd minute, Bennett soared to flick a goal kick from Current goalkeeper A.D. Franch past midfield with her head. A Reign defender misplayed the ball, which eventually fell to Hamilton. Hamilton then raced towards the goal, juked a defender, and fired a bottom-corner strike from the top of the penalty area that doubled Kansas City’s lead.
And with Loera moving up into midfield against OL Reign, defender Addisyn Merrick manned the Current’s back line alongside Elizabeth Ball and Kristen Edmonds. In her first appearance of the postseason, Merrick started and played 64 minutes while Kansas City kept OL Reign’s offense off the scoresheet.
It’s fitting that the 2022 NWSL Championship comes down to Kansas City and Portland, squads that posted two of the longest unbeaten streaks in league history during the regular season. The Current ended up with a 13-match unbeaten streak — the second-longest unbeaten streak in NWSL history — as opposed to Portland’s 11-match run, but both occurred over a similar stretch of the season and ultimately positioned both teams well for a playoff position.
As for Kansas City, the Current continue to make history during the club’s first-ever playoff run. Not only did the Current pick up its first two playoff victories in club history over the last two weeks, but the team made league history in the process. The Kansas City Current is the lowest-ever seed to make the NWSL Championship and the first team to reach the final in the season following a last-place finish the season prior. Additionally, the Current are the first team in NWSL history to win back-to-back road matches before reaching the championship match.
Kansas City and Portland also have a unique bit of history as it pertains to all-time meetings between the sides. Of the nine other teams in the NWSL in the Current’s inaugural season in 2021, the Thorns are the lone team that Kansas City has never beaten. The Current are 0-4-2 all-time against Portland but did pick up a 1-1 draw in the teams’ most recent meeting at Children’s Mercy Park on Sept. 18. In that matchup, defender Hailie Mace hit a screamer from outside the penalty area in second-half stoppage time that secured the tie.
Three Current players were named to the 2022 NWSL Best XI First Team and Second Team awards, which were announced on Tuesday. The squads were selected on a weighted voting scale comprised of players (50%), owners/GM’s/coaches (20%), media (20%) and fans (10%). Midfielder Lo’eau LaBonta received Kansas City’s lone First Team selection, while Franch and Mace received Second Team honors.
LaBonta had a stellar individual season for the Current, tying them for the team lead (and franchise record) with seven goals and posting a team-high four assists. Both totals set new career highs for LaBonta, who entered the 2022 campaign with five goals and four assists across all competitions for her career. The honor marked LaBonta’s first-ever selection to the NWSL Best XI.
Franch, meanwhile, earned her fourth selection to an NWSL Best XI. The goalkeeper has been instrumental in Kansas City’s success this season and finished the regular season third in the league in saves with 66. Franch also set club records for total saves and clean sheets in a season.
Mace’s first NWSL Best XI nod came following a career season that saw her become an integral piece of Potter’s match day lineup. Deployed as a wingback, Mace has been vital both in defense and attack for the Current. She set career highs in games played (18), started (17), minutes played (1,508), goals (4) and assists (2).
The Current will hold a watch party at Union Station’s Haverty Family Yards starting at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday night, as the match will be shown on a video board.
Players to watch
Kansas City Current Kristen Edmonds — Edmonds has been a stalwart along the back line for the Current this season, and she’s nearly totaled 2,000 minutes played across regular and postseason action. She’s played the second-most minutes of any field player on the Current, only trailing Hamilton. Edmonds ranks second on the team in both clearances (71) and interceptions (31) and has seven total blocks. Additionally, Edmonds and fellow defender Kate Del Fava are the lone members of the Current’s back line that have been a part of all seven shutouts the team recorded in the regular season.
Portland Thorns forward Rocky Rodríguez — The Current should be familiar with Rodríguez, as she opened the scoring when the sides met on Sept. 18 with a goal in the 87th minute. While she only scored three goals in the 2022 campaign, her opening goal against San Diego was both critical for the match and an impressive display of her individual quality. She’s started every match for Portland since appearing as a substitute against Kansas City in September, and her goal against the Wave means she enters Saturday’s championship in good form.