Current’s Andonovski, LaBonta describe turbulent week after canceled flights

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Current’s training facility and stadium have been applauded by the club’s players and women’s soccer players and coaches worldwide for the groundbreaking investment the owners put into the team.

It helps the players feel like professionals when they have all of the resources to do so.

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So when the Current were stuck in a four-hour rain delay against the Houston Dash on Saturday, May 4, that made them miss their flight to Seattle for their next match, the owners of the team (Chris and Angie Long and Brittany and Patrick Mahomes) were approved by the NWSL for a charter flight to help get the team to their next destination.

“We were in Houston, we couldn’t get out of Houston and then our owners go ‘boom, charter flight’. Three years ago, that would not happen. I can guarantee you that,” Current head coach Vlatko Andonovski said. The Current also checked out of their hotel before their noon kickoff so they could not go back to their Houston hotel.

Andonovski spent the last four years as the head coach of the United States women’s national team but was the head coach of FC Kansas City when they played in the league’s inaugural match at a local Kansas City high school.

He knows more than most about how far professional women’s soccer has come for something so simple as a charter flight to be a sweet relief to the club’s players, coaches, and staff.

“Owner support, it’s crucial. Literally in the same second, we’re just taking a charter flight,” he said.

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Professional women’s sports teams in America are used to flying commercial flights with the public throughout the years but that is quickly changing. The WNBA recently approved charter flights for every team and every away game for the next two seasons. NWSL teams can use charters if they have midweek and weekend games in the same week or if there are no direct flights departing and landing between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Andonovski gave credit to team administration Janice Bolin and director of soccer operations Caitlin Carducci as the drivers behind organizing the team’s travel arrangements while general manager Camille Ashton oversaw the process.

“All three of them were on top of everything, including our equipment manager who was coordinating all the equipment and everything that had to get on the plane. We eventually got underneath the plane to reorganize everything so we can fit in.

“I don’t know if it was hard or easy. I just know that we made it happen and we’re we’re thankful that all the players came back, everybody’s healthy. We came back fresh.”

In eight days, the Current drew 1-1 with a Houston team that is reorganizing its roster early in the season and traveled to have a scoreless draw with Seattle Reign FC who is near the bottom of the table after traveling with just two days to prepare for a Wednesday match.

They ended their eight-day stretch to beat North Carolina Courage 1-0 on Sunday to continue their undefeated streak at nine games to start the season as they sit atop of the league.

Veteran midfielder Lo LaBonta, who also knows how far the sport and the league have come as she surpassed 10,000 career NWSL minutes on Sunday, described the process as best as she could, which always includes a lot of humor.

“I don’t know if we have enough time for that. You know, like those CVS receipts, like they just keep going,” she said while laughing at the whole process. “We didn’t talk about it because we’re not going to use any excuses. Even heading to Houston, we had canceled flights, like we were all split up. People had no idea that we were all over the place. Then that game, obviously the long delay.

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“And then that flight gets canceled. And then we go to Seattle. That one was crazy, we play on turf. Heading back, I think I didn’t sleep for over 24 hours. I don’t know, some people may have. I know our staff especially didn’t, and then you know, we’re back training.”

While LaBonta was grateful for the charter flight out of Houston to Seattle, it came with some terrifying moments for players.

“I don’t know when we finally got out of there. Oh my god,” LaBonta began with a story that she told local reporters was a must-tell. “So this charter was, again I’m grateful we got out of there. But we had to stop for like a field checks or fuel refill, I don’t know in Denver. And the turbulence was so wild, people were singing on the plane. We were singing ‘Don’t Worry About a Thing’.

“You could hear it. They were scared like, we thought our lives were truly going to end there. We’re grateful like, we got through, but I’m telling you, this week has been hell but I haven’t heard one person complain. And it’s funny now, but like it was not funny in the moment.”

The Current outran the Courage throughout the game using their high press, counterattacking ways to combat the Courage’s strategy of holding possession through their back line. Kansas City heavily outshot North Carolina 21 (eight on goal) to seven (two on goal) despite the Courage holding possession 55% of the match.

In midfielder Debinha’s first start since injuring her hamstring in the season opener against Portland Thorns FC, she scored off of a blocked Temwa Chawinga shot that bounced her way in the middle of the box. Chawinga had eight shots by herself, outshooting the Courage.

Andonovski praised his team’s “strong character” for being able to deal with travel issues and come away with favorable results.

“We had a tough trial,” he said. “Obviously, the weather didn’t cooperate with us. The schedule, the airlines didn’t cooperate with us. There were so many hotels. I mean, there were so many things that [happened] in the travel and to come out in those three games, with no loss, two shutouts was huge.

“I actually talked to the players a couple of days ago about it. I thank them for their professionalism and patience,” Anodonovski said. “Because there’s so many things that can go wrong in this moment, that if the players react to it, then it puts stress on the support staff, on the technical staff, and then even more mistakes and more things go wrong. The fact that they just literally took a step back, a lot of people that are in charge to take care of it, which I thought they did an incredible job. And all they stayed focused on and kept reminding themselves on it was the game. ‘Okay, we’re here to play the game. Let the people that need to take care of that take care of it. And we need to take care of things on the field which, very thankful for them.'”

“We have this game and to me, I think this was our most intense game,” LaBonta said. “Everybody gave everything. And I’m just beyond proud to be a part of this organization. This group of players and our staff and everybody is bought in for each other. You can just feel the support and I think it just shows out there. We are constantly picking each other up. Anything we can do to help anybody sometimes. We’re doing everything we can for each other and that’s the support that is going to help us throughout this year.”

The Current don’t have any midweek matches coming up and host Racing Louisville FC on Saturday at 8:30 p.m. Even without star striker Bia who is out with injury, the Current’s attack boasts much depth with the return of Debinha, Temwa, Michelle Cooper, Claire Lavogez, and former Houston attacker Nichelle Prince who made her season debut on Sunday. They also have depth on the backline with Danish defender Stine Ballisager making her second straight start at center back while usual CB starter Elizabeth Ball subbed in at left back.

For folks who hope the Current slow down, that may not happen anytime soon for the 6-0-3 squad that is first in the league.

“Right before the game when I walked in the locker room I said, ‘We know this is gonna be a hard game. I can come in and stand here and tell you all it’s gonna be no, it’s gonna be a hard game.’ I said, ‘There are going to be moments that this game is gonna look like a roller coaster, like the tempo is gonna drop maybe and we may look a little bit sluggish in moments, right.'”

CPKC Stadium sold out for the fourth straight match for all of the home games of its inaugural season.

“Use the energy from the stadium, use the energy from the fans because it’s huge. Right when we started dropping a little bit, you could hear the fans. It was almost like an orchestra. It was almost like it was synchronized and I think that the players fed off of it and you performed. Very, very thankful to the fans for the energy that they bring. It’s been amazing.”

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“Vlatko started off in our pregame talk that the mentality of this team is unmatched,” LaBonta said. “He hasn’t questioned it one bit this entire preseason, season, this last week. He’s seen it and he’s thanked us for it. He said ‘let’s see it in this game as well’ and I think we went above and beyond what he expected.

“One thing I want to call out though, is that we ended this crazy road trip of a week at home. And that crowd, I don’t know about you, that crowd especially on the kickoff, the KC Baby (chant) sends chills, it’s amazing. It gives us energy and I want to give kudos to them as well. Our fans in the crowd and this stadium helped us for sure get through that game.”

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