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KC Current players focused on game ahead of historic season opener

KC Current players focused on game ahead of historic season opener

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Current are officially less than 24 hours away from their historic season opener at their own CPKC Stadium.

After sharing Children’s Mercy Park with Sporting Kansas City for the first three years of the club’s existence, the KC Current will begin the 2024 National Women’s Soccer League season by playing at the first stadium made for a professional women’s soccer team.

The Current face the Portland Thorns with the first kick beginning at noon.

“For someone who has been involved in the game for 25 years on a daily basis and to see how this game has evolved in the city and it’s not just a game but the resources,” head coach Vlatko Andonovski said.

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“The support of women’s soccer, the logistical support, everything. It’s at a different level, a different world. We were always doing things but we were always following trends, we’re always following someone. We always wanted to see what people in Chicago were doing or even people in St. Louis. In St. Louis, they’re doing this we got to do it or you know New York or California, Texas. Like it was always somebody that we wanted to be or someone we wanted to follow,” he said.

“And now, we don’t have to follow, we don’t want to follow now. Now we’re at the point where people have to follow us and the stadium is a good example of that. The complex and everything that we’re doing.

This season has been heavily marketed with Current signage all over the city on streetcars, billboards, and flags throughout the city, and even at Kansas City International Airport.

It’s a far cry from where veterans midfielder Lo LaBonta and goalkeeper AD Franch were when they entered the NWSL in 2015 for LaBonta with Sky Blue FC (now NJ/NY Gotham FC) and in 2016 for Franch with the Thorns.

“I get a locker, I get a shower. This is crazy,” LaBonta joked on Friday. “When Vlatko first came here, he kind of said to us like ‘You guys we would not be where we are today if you guys haven’t pushed limits and really put pressure on people to make it better’. We want to be the players that only have to worry about the game at the end of the weekend. So right now that we’re finally getting it, we do feel like we can just focus on the game and not everything else that’s going on.”

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“I think honestly as kids, that’s what we thought the expectation was,” Franch said Friday. “When I’m like five to eight I’m like, I want to be a professional soccer player. This is the standard that you expect it to be.

“I think what that represents and what that means is, everyone who wants to be a professional will know what this standard is. And right now, this week, you’re asking us questions about a stadium, and what we are focused on is us as a team, and what we want to do within this game and our first opener. So we’ll definitely talk about it afterward, we’ve been talking about it since they said they were going to build it. So the excitement is the same that it’s been and now it’s more focused on the actual game.”

Women’s soccer around the world, even in just KC, has come a long way in just two decades.

Kansas City’s first NWSL team, FC Kansas City, won back-to-back league titles in 2014 and 2015 with home stadiums of Shawnee Mission District Stadium and UMKC’s Durwood Soccer Stadium before settling at CMP.

Andonovski was the head coach for those teams who didn’t even have a locker room at practice or spaces to meet with the team.

“To see how much this game has grown, how much this game has evolved and the league and the teams and the resources that are available, it’s amazing, it’s surreal,” he said Friday. “So very thankful for everything, very thankful for all the opportunities that I’ve had personally to be involved in the women’s game, and very thankful for everybody that puts so much effort and time to build a game to the point where it is today.”

The progress started during the 2022 season when the Current, led by owners Chris and Angie Long, built their own training facility and it helped them make a run to the NWSL Championship where they lost to the Thorns.

Now, the Current open the season at their own stadium against the Thorns for the third time in four seasons.

They will be without forward Michelle Cooper (calf), defender Hanna Glas (knee), forward Nichelle Prince (calf), midfielder Desiree Scott (knee) and defender Mallory Weber (knee) who are out with injuries.

As much as players are ready to just hit the pitch, they know that they will have emotions flow through them once it all gets started.

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“I think the first thing that is gonna give me goosebumps is when I step onto the field and see the fans, all the seats filled,” LaBonta said. “Because everybody there, the community of Kansas City, we are a huge family like all being together on that first time I think will truly give me goosebumps.”

“That’s part of why my routine, going into the goal, is connecting with the fans,” Franch said.

“Fans can help bring the house down, you know. So hopefully, they’re as loud as they’re supposed to be. If not, you know, I’ll let them know. But I want to hear the decibels go crazy in our stadium. And so every team that knows when they step onto our field, they have the fans to deal with not just us.”

KC looks to best a 2023 season that saw head coach Matt Potter fired after three losses and hours before a Challenge Cup match where they finished 11th of 12 in the standings with an 8-2-12 record.

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