In the first six games of its schedule, FC Kansas City has opted for consistency rather than change.
By SAM McDOWELL
The Kansas City Star
As little variance as the Blues have shown in their style of play, there has been even less in personnel. Only 12 players have cracked the starting lineup through six games.
That's all about to change.
The Blues, 3-2-1, are set to embark on a season-high three-game road trip beginning with a match in Portland at 9:30 p.m. Thursday.
A combination of factors will test FC Kansas City's depth over the three-game haul, most immediately that it will be without defender Lauren Sesselmann against the Portland Thorns FC. Sesselmann was issued a red card in a 1-0 loss to Sky Blue FC on May 24.
"It's not easy for us — it's a tough loss," FC Kansas City coach Vlatko Andonovski said. "But that's why we have the depth on this squad we have."
That's only the first test.
The three-game swing takes place in the span of only eight days — providing Andonovski with reason to use his bench more liberally in an effort to keep his team fresh. To date, the Blues' shortest layoff between games has been seven days.
Add to that, the Blues just welcomed back six of its 11 starters from Sunday's tilt between the United States and Canada national teams. The U.S. prevailed 3-0.
"We're going to have to be really smart and have the ball do most of the work," said defender Becky Sauerbrunn, a member of the U.S. Women's National Team. "We can't try to run too much because you need to pace yourself to get through a series of games like that."
Sauerbrunn is one of four players — along with goalie Nicole Barnhart, midfielder Kristie Mewis and midfielder Lauren Cheney — who will likely miss the conclusion of the road trip in Chicago to fulfill duties with the national team.
The spots they will vacate have left stiff competition for players looking for more playing time over the past week, though Andonovski said those position battles have been taking place throughout the season.
"The competition has been here ever since we started," Andonovski said. "You can see the excitement in the girls now that they see playing time is there. It's up for grabs."
In Sesselmann's absence Thursday, Courtney Jones and Erika Tymrak are two candidates to earn their first start of the season in the league's toughest environment.
Aided by the star power of Alex Morgan and Christine Sinclair, Portland has dominated attendance figures in the National Women's Soccer League. In four home games, Portland has drawn an average of 13,118 fans per game. FC Kansas City has the league's second-best mark at 4,849 per game.
The two teams fought to a 1-1 draw in the NWSL inaugural game on April 13.
"It will always be the toughest place to play, but we have to be first mentally ready for a great crowd," Andonovski said. "We have to be mentally ready to play against players like Morgan and Sinclair. I think on our side, the technical and the tactical soccer is there. We just have to execute and play well."