League Originals Happy to See Growth

By Rachel Gaylor

Today FC Kansas City will face the Orlando Pride, but the game also marks a huge milestone for the club. Today will be FCKC’s 100th regular-season game. This week, some Blues players reflected on the growth of the league five years since it began.

In January of 2012 when the Women’s Professional Soccer league announced that it had folded after three seasons, there was doubt if a women’s professional league could be sustainable. The WPS was the second attempt at a league here following the Women’s United Soccer Association which suspended operations in 2003, also after three seasons. But to grow the game domestically, a professional women’s league needed to be established and sustained for longer than WUSA and WPS. That’s when the National Women’s Soccer League was born.

There are six current FC Kansas City Players that have been a part of the league since its inception. The three original FCKC players are Nicole Barnhart, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Erika Tymrak. Brittany Taylor played with the Western New York Flash for three seasons before being traded to the Blues before the start of the 2016 season. Sydney Leroux has made appearances for Boston, Seattle, and Western New York before joining Kansas City before the 2016 season. However, due to pregnancy, she didn’t make her official Blues debut until this season. And Amy Rodriguez was allocated to the Seattle Reign in 2013, but missed the season due to pregnancy. She was traded to FCKC before the 2014 season and led the Blues to an NWSL championship that year and 2015. She missed 2016 due to pregnancy and made one appearance this year before tearing her ACL.

Sauerbrunn, a captain for the national team, played in the WPS with the Washington Freedom and magicJack in Boca Raton, FL.

“I see more talent coming in the league and staying which means it’s sustainable,” Sauerbrunn said. “With the other leagues, you had three years and then you could tell that the end was near. But with the way that this league is set up and the funding from US Soccer, I think this league is meant to survive.”

Tymrak was selected 11th overall in the very first NWSL draft by Kansas City in 2013. She has made 83 appearances in five years, the second most appearances in franchise history.

“We’re getting players from all over the world,” Tymrak said. “From Australia, from Europe - it’s really important because I think it shows that everyone wants to be in this league and I think that’s huge.”

Barnhart, the NWSL all-time leader in shutouts (35), played in the WPS for FC Gold Pride, located in Santa Clara, CA, and the Philadelphia Independence.

“It’s grown a lot,” she said. “Coming in the first year, I don’t think anyone knew what to expect, what the level would be or what kind of players we would get, but it’s really cool to see how it’s growing, not just the number of teams, but the quality of players and the overall level and competitiveness.”

Taylor, who is inching closer to the century mark in games-played, has played every minute of every game since she arrived in Kansas City in 2016.

“At the beginning, we tried to do a really good job of promoting the league,” she said. “Now you walk around and when you say to people ‘I play for FC Kansas City,’ they know who we are now. It’s been really cool to see the development and the awareness outside of the soccer community.”

The league has evolved in many ways including facilities, salary cap, and minimum and maximum wage for contracted players. There has even been the formation of an NWSL Players Association for non-federation players. But there is still work to do.

“Eventually I’d love to see divisions and conferences and a real playoff system,” Barnhart said. “I think that’d be great. And getting to a point where we can play teams from other leagues around the world.”

“I think what could be awesome is if, in every city, we can get a strong fan base,” Taylor said. “Obviously, when you go to the big places like a Portland or Orlando, they have that really big backing - where when you walk in you get goosebumps. And for all the players to feel that type of experience would be great.”

The league is still young compared to those in Europe, but it still has proven itself to be one of the most competitive for all 10 teams.

“I think the great thing about this league is the parity amongst every team,” Sauerbrunn said. “I don’t think you’re going to find a game where you know who’s going to win. There’s always a chance that something’s going to happen - someone will beat someone else who lost to someone else. Everyone is so even. I think it’s really good because it means the talent is spread so evenly.”

No matter how competitive the teams are, Tymrak said that she enjoys still being friends with those who play for other teams.

“Everyone’s pretty much frenemies,” she said. “Everyone’s played with each other and against each other and we know each other and when we’re playing it’s super competitive, but the second the whistle blows you get to hang out with your best friend.”

You can watch FC Kansas City play its 100th match as a club today against the Orlando Pride on go90.com or nwslsoccer.com. The team returns home for its 101st match next Saturday and individual tickets are available for purchase here.