Kansas City Current – Tactical Analysis – 2022

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Kansas City Current have shocked the NWSL in 2022, going on an incredible run of form at the end of the season to win or draw 17 of their last 20 games, and secure a spot in the playoffs where they now await the Final. Along the way, Matthew Potter has played some of the most tactically flexible football in the division, creating a team of workhorses ready to fight each and every day for the betterment of the team. They’ve not only played some of the best football this season, but have done so with one of the lowest budgets, and arguably the least amount of star power in their ranks.

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That’s right! The KC Current have achieved this stunning feat of making it all the way to the 2022 NWSL Playoff Final, despite boasting no genuine superstars. Adrianna Franch and Desiree Scott have made nice careers for themselves, while Kristen Hamilton and Lo’eau LaBonta have regularly impressed within the past five years in the NWSL. But none have attained the levels of the likes of Rose Lavelle, Jess Fishlock and Megan Rapinoe, who the Current came up against their semi-final match-up against OL Reign.

Instead of individuality and superstars leading the charge, Matt Potter has created a team. He’s created a team of rising talents like Alex Loera and Addisyn Merrick, outcasts of other sides like Elizabeth Ball and 35-year-old Kristen Edmonds; and has wonderfully rotated his team without the only two genuine stars in Lynn Williams and Sam Mewis – both of whom have missed the entire campaign.

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Several of their players were deemed not good enough for more esteemed sides in the NWSL, and Potter’s created a team of players genuinely hungry to prove themselves each and every game. He’s done so within the boundaries of a tactically flexible, organized system of play that prioritizes the defensive side of the game, without ever sacrificing the potency and fluidity of the team’s attack. So with that, here is our tactical analysis of the remarkabilities to the KC Current in 2022, and how they’ve achieved success en route to a Playoff Final.

SYSTEM OF PLAY: 3-5-2 / 3-1-4-2

After a bit of a rocky start to the season, Matt Potter finally found fluidity and solidity in his ranks upon changing to a 3-1-4-2 / 3-5-2 formation. Since May 30, 2022 – the very start of that insane twenty game run, Potter has deployed a 3-1-4-2 formation every single time. It’s paid dividends in the team’s performance, and allowed many of their players to find form together, striking the perfect mix of balance and stability within the side.

All of their standout defenders simply look more comfortable with the greater support of that back-three, and it’s allowed for the flexibility of players like Hailie Mace, Alex Loera and Kate Del Fava to flourish as they move around to different positions both in-game and between games.

Starting at the back end of the pitch, Adrianna Franch has stood out for her solidity in goal, serving as a solid sweeper in behind the back-line, at 1.55 defensive actions outside the penalty area per 90. She’s also boasted an impressive save percentage of 76.5%, keeping six clean sheets in her 22 matches.

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She’s supported by a solid back-three in the young and rising talent Addisyn Merrick, veteran defender Kristen Edmonds, and Elizabeth Ball operating in between the two. Alexis Loera has however been the key and consistent cog in the back-line alongside Ball and Edmonds, and plays a pivotal role in the team’s ability to advance through the thirds and create chances. She’s completed more passes into the final third than any KC player (sixth in the division at 4.62 per 90), and Potter’s had a stroke of genius in playing her further up the pitch for the two Playoff matches, where she’s now scored and assisted a goal across the two games.

Normally Loera’s ball-playing presence helps to facilitate chances from deep, especially considering that the midfielders in the side each offer something completely different than the playmaking quality of the 23-year-old. Desiree Scott for example anchors the midfield as a quintessential ‘Midfield Destroyer’, shuffling left and right to break up the play and win back possession for her team.

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Lo’eau LaBonta, arguably the star of the side, serves as a playmaker higher up the pitch as she dynamically breaks the lines and creates chances in the final third. Then you have someone like Claire Lavogez to balance out the side, who excels at receiving in between the lines and dribbling her way out of trouble. Potter’s encouraged flexibility in the positioning of players, meaning that the likes of Hailie Mace, Kate Del Fava and even now Loera have featured in midfield to bring out different outcomes for the Current.

Mace and Del Fava have made themselves pivotal performers in the side through their box-to-box mobility and relentless energy – perfectly summing up the Kansas City way under Potter. Both featuring most prominently as wing-backs, they’ve completely enveloped the never-say-die mindsets that their manager has endeavoured to employ. The balance struck between them has also been positive, with Mace as more of a progressive carrier and creator, and Del Fava more of an energetic workhorse who progressively runs up the pitch to support her teammates at the end of moves.

Up front, Kristen Hamilton’s been the consistent centre-forward of the side, scoring 7 goals in her 24 matches this campaign. Potter’s rotated through Cece Kizer, Elyse Bennett and Victoria Pickett as Hamilton’s partner up top, without ever detracting from the consistency and chemistry of the team in the final third. The forwards in Potter’s system serve as ‘Channel Runners’ responsible for chasing down long-passing attempts and anything loose, while relentlessly pressing from the front and responding to the team’s quick mindset toward transitions.

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Before finishing this section, it’s worth noting that the formation will typically take on the form of a 5-3-2 in defense. The slight variations that can occur between the phases will be discussed throughout the remainder of this article, including how all of these players come together to achieve success for the greater good of the team.

ATTACKING PRINCIPLES

Despite boasting the lowest possession in the league, KC have been great in finishing off their chances, breaking away quickly in transition, and making their moments count. They have a variety of players who can score goals – from the strikers in Hamilton and Kizer to the box-to-box dominance of LaBonta to the set-piece brilliance of Hailie Mace. In fact, many of KC Current’s early-season goals came from set-pieces, and their creativity from set-pieces (stay-tuned for another future article on that!). Not only do Loera and Mace provide the gusto to put the ball on the money, but Potter and his staff implemented several creative routines around short-corners that allowed the team to achieve wide overloads, confuse the opposition into stepping up, and then ultimately punish the opposition for their mistakes.

Hailie Mace served as an early favourite in my notes on the team dating all the way back to the start of the season, where I frequently denoted her tireless energy, her progressive passing and carrying, and her ‘terrier-like instincts’. The fact that she even took many set-pieces for the team (alongside Loera) immediately proved to me that she was an absolute baller, and someone that the team heavily relied on to achieve success. Statistically, that much is true. Mace pops up toward the top of the team in nearly every category. She’s credited for having 4 goals and 2 assists this season, but her goal-contributing-actions sit at 0.6 per 90 (10 total) – the most in her team. It’s her incisiveness in the final third that helps to allow the team to thrive, and she frequently inverts from that left-wing-back position to engage in central channels, and intersperse movement around Lo’eau LaBonta and Kristen Hamilton.

Speaking of LaBonta and Hamilton, they too have provided a sense of tenacity and fight that has perfectly exemplified everything the Current bring to the table. LaBonta’s incisive passing in the final third has been pivotal to creating chances and allowing the team to win a league high 8 penalties. Hamilton’s an absolute work-horse on and off-the-ball, and her electric speed on the break is essential to allowing the team to immediately race up the pitch in transition.

Even despite all this centrality, they’ve never lacked the width. Centre-backs will underlap and overlap wing-backs, wing-backs will drift inside as central midfielders drift the other way, and the strikers are masters of exploiting the half-spaces and chasing down loose balls.

At the back, Elizabeth Ball nicely dictates and orchestrates the possession, with Adrianna Franch a frequent option. A 3+2 build-up tends to be the common set-up, as the centre-backs nicely play the ball around. LaBonta will typically be the midfielder to shift higher, as wide overloads create moments for one-touch football to break through the centre and use LaBonta’s close control to the team’s advantage.

Despite the abundance of quality in the side, it’s Loera that the team want to have on the ball at every opportunity out from the back, and she’s attempted 14.5 long passes per 90 and 20.8 ‘medium passes’ per 90 this season. In both cases, this is even more than the short passes (11.8), allowing herself to constantly be forward-thinking in her approach and endeavour to pull off risky moves.

If she can raise the level of success of these passes, she will be an absolute superstar, as she already has the awareness both in and out of possession of a high-level, tactically flexible footballer. The key will also be in setting Hamilton and the forwards free from her passes, rather than just into space to chase. But that is not to take away from her stunning ability, which as we noted in our dedicated Game of Numbers article about her, is absolutely incredible in finding pockets of space to thread the tiniest of needles through.

DEFENSIVE PRINCIPLES

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Without ever detracting from all they can achieve in the attack, Matt Potter’s team have remained defensive in their mindsets this season. Their average possession sits last in the division at 47.5%, and they do their best work off-the-ball, whether they have possession or not.

In defensive phases, Potter’s team set up in a 5-3-2 formation, covering the depth and width of the field through compactness and careful positioning.

In the team’s mid-block or in the immediacy of transitions, a 5-2-1-2 may take form, as Lo’eau LaBonta remains advanced ahead of her midfield pairing. This could be seen throughout the tactical battle against OL Reign at the weekend, where Potter deployed two defensively-geared performers in Scott and Loera in behind LaBonta.

The forwards meanwhile set the tone in their pressing endeavours, pressing when closest to the ball, while leaving a relatively big gap between them, typically to cover the width of the opposition’s build-up, and allow the central midfielders to cover the bulk of the central spaces instead.

If you were to describe Potter’s defensive resilience in one word, it would probably have to be mobility. While they’re incredibly organized, sound in their timing, and constantly scanning for the spaces to close, the key attribute that all players in his team possess would be that relentless energy.

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This allows the team to counter-press effectively with the likes of Mace, LaBonta and Kizer immediately surrounding opposition players on the ball in numbers, and then falling back into shape if the opposition breaks the initial counter-press. This is nothing new or novel to the art of defensive transitions, but Kansas are one of the most effective teams in immediately shutting down avenues to play forward, and ensuring they limit the opposition’s ability to transition efficiently. Even if the opposition break the counter-press, you have the speed of Merrick, Edmonds and Ball to support passes over the top, the sweeping and positional sense of Adrianna Franch in goal, and the destroyer herself in Desiree Scott breaking up play at every turn. Scott’s made 3.33 tackles per game this season, with an awesome 63% success rate (2.09 tackles won per 90). A master of the art of timing, Scott’s not just about destroying and breaking up the play, but efficiently winning the ball in a manner that sets her team up to immediately go on the hunt the other way. But she’s not the only one that stands out when it comes to winning the ball.

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Edmonds not only possesses the pace but the positional sense to quickly make recoveries on long balls over the top or those vital moments of opposition strikers bearing down on goal. Her tackle success stands at a team high 68%, alongside another team high in ball recoveries – 9.13 per 90. Perhaps most impressively, she hasn’t picked up a single yellow card all season. That’s all down to a fantastic sense of timing and angling in her 1v1 duels, where she perfectly assesses the moment to win possession. Merrick meanwhile is solid in the air (80% aerial success), and active in stepping out to intercept and anticipate progressive passes. Ball makes her presence felt as the one to anchor that back-line, sweep whenever it makes more sense for her to do so than Franch, and clear the ball out of danger as a last resort. The likes of Mace, Del Fava and Loera are never shy about throwing themselves into tackles when it matters most, helping KC to continue their aggressive mindset toward winning the ball back. Even the forwards push and probe through that intense mobility they provide. They simply have a team of warriors, willing to give everything for the victory each and every time they play. That has been the hallmark of Potter’s success within the 3-1-4-2, even over the fantastic organization and positioning of his players to combat the opposition’s movement and possession. Opposition teams will always find limited room to breathe against his side’s set-up, which is a function of the coordination, but also about the tireless energy that the team exude everywhere on the pitch.

CONCLUSION

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After an incredible season inside the NWSL, Matt Potter’s Kansas City Current could now be set for the opportunity of their lives. With a team full of underdogs cast aside by other clubs, the Current boast one of the most impressive records in the league this season, whilst boasting the best organization and the most tactically flexible style of football. Players like Kate Del Fava and Alexis Loera have come out of relative obscurity to immediately flourish as stars in the side, and now have a real shot at boosting their chances for an already stacked USWNT. LaBonta already deserves that claim for her part in making this team tick from back to front, and leading the charge toward the final. But it’s been a team effort throughout 2022, and Potter’s clearly built an environment where all players feel that they have something worth fighting for. The job isn’t over yet, and it’s now up to the players to complete what they set out to do at the start of this Playoff run, and create history for the Current.


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So there it is! A tactical analysis of Matt Potter’s KC Current in 2022. Be sure to check out more NWSL, Women’s Football content and Team Analyses. Also be sure to give us a follow @desmondrhys and @mastermindsite to never miss an update! Thanks for reading and see you soon!

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