2014 NWSL season previews – FC Kansas City: All the awards except the one that really matters

Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

FC Kansas City had everything you need for a championship in 2013, except the Blues often struggled to close out games when it mattered. Has FCKC exorcised the ghosts of a tough semifinal loss and found some focus, or will they fall just short, again?

2013 had to be frustrating for FC Kansas City. This was a team that grabbed every major player award; Goalkeeper of the Year, Defender of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Golden Boot, MVP. But the Blues couldn't even make it to the final. FC Kansas City was very good on paper, and they were very good on the field too. Except that last part was too often for only about 75 minutes, which, with that pesky soccer games being 90 minutes thing and all...

Head Coach: Vlatko Andonovski, second season

Where we left off: FCKC finished the regular season in second, with an 11-6-5 record. The Blues faced Portland in the semifinal, blowing a two-goal lead en route to an eventual 3-2 extra time loss.

No competition: Nicole Barnhart returns in net for the Blues, a season after tallying a league-leading ten shutouts and nabbing Goalkeeper of the Year honors. Backup Bianca Henninger is now with the Houston Dash, but Kansas City didn't have to look far for a replacement after being allocated Mexican international Cecilia Santiago, who spent 2013 with Boston. FCKC also signed West Virginia's Sara Keane. Barnhart, a USWNT veteran, is the clear no. 1, leaving the Blues set for some real goalkeeping messes when those pesky national team scheduling conflicts pop up. Santiago looked less than confident in her few appearances for the Breakers in 2013, and is still very young. Training with Barnhart everyday definitely won't be a bad thing for the 19 year old, but will it be enough?

Healthy LePeilbet?: FCKC allowed a league best 204 shots in 2013, a testament to just how good the Blues defense was last season. A huge part of that success came thanks to the centerback tandem of Defender of the Year winner Becky Sauerbrunn and Lauren Sesselmann, however only one of them will be returning for second go round in KC, with the latter sent to Houston in the Expansion Draft. FCKC also returns Leigh Ann Robinson and Nia Williams, who played just 182 minutes last season. The Blues picked up Amy LePeilbet in an offseason trade with Chicago, and the one-time USWNT stalwart should fit right in next to Sauerbrunn, if she can stay healthy. LePeilbet hasn't played since an appearance for the USWNT at the end of 2012 thanks to ACL surgery that also kept her off the field for the entire 2013 NWSL season. FCKC also added draft pick Kassey Kallman and Nikki Phillips, who you may remember as the Philadelphia Independence's Nikki Krzysik.

Tymrak to Holiday: FCKC returns both 2013's Rookie of Year winner Erika Tymrak and Golden Boot and league MVP Lauren Holiday. Both players had breakout 2013's with Holiday cementing her spot as one of the league's best, and Tymrak impressing everyone including Tom Sermanni, who capped Tymrak three times for the senior USWNT, where she scored once. This was the league's best offensive duo a year ago -- and one of the most fun to watch -- and there's no reason it won't be again.

The return of A-Rod: Professional soccer hasn't always gone well for Amy Rodriguez. By now, we all know the story of A-Rod, USWNT up-and-comer with a beyond disappointing rookie WPS season in Boston, finder of new life and a scoring resurgence for club though not necessarily country under Paul Riley in Philadelphia. Rodriguez was allocated to Seattle for the 2013 season, but didn't play due to the birth of her first child. Traded to FCKC in the offseason, A-Rod may once again be looking for a second -- or third -- chance, especially with young strikers like Sydney Leroux, Christen Press and Alex Morgan passing her by on the USWNT depth chart. Rodriguez returned to the field at the end of January, playing 12 minutes for the USWNT in a 1-0 win over Canada, but it's still not entirely clear which A-Rod will show up in Kansas City.

In conclusion: FCKC's offense was very good a year ago and it can only get better if Amy Rodriguez can find her game. The Blues one problem a season ago was a tendency to fall asleep late in games. It happened in the most costly way in the semifinal against Portland, but that was hardly the only time. If Vlatko Andonovski can figure out how to shore things up in the focus department, there's no reason his side can't make another title run.

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