After weeks of uncertainty, FC Kansas City’s future, both on and off the field, is clearer.
Thursday’s National Women’s Soccer League draft was the first step in FC Kansas City’s new direction, after the team announced an ownership change and a new general manager this week.
Elam Bear, a Minnesota businessman, officially took over the ownership reins following weeks of negotiations. And after former general manager Huw Williams resigned in December, Jean-Yves Viardin will take his place.
Questions of FCKC’s future in the Midwest arose when Bear, who still lives in Minnesota, first expressed interest in purchasing the team. But according to NWSL commissioner Jeff Plush, the Blues are not planning a move to join their new owner.
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“They will absolutely stay in Kansas City,” Plush said. “Just because Elam doesn’t live in Kansas City – he made it very clear that he thinks Kansas City is the right market. They’ve already had success. They’re committed to Kansas City.”
Despite change at the top, FCKC head coach Vlatko Andonovski’s mission is to keep the foundation steady. Consistency has been what FCKC is known for since the inception of the National Women’s Soccer League: In four seasons, the team has appeared in three league semifinals and won two championships. Getting back to that level – after a 2016 season that ended without a playoff appearance – remains the goal despite fluctuating leadership.
Behind that success has been a possession-oriented style of play where defense is at a premium. Despite changes at the top, the team philosophy didn’t change much come draft day.
Kansas City selected Duke defender/midfielder Christina Gibbons with its first pick (No. 5 overall).
“At this point, I’ve been kind of trading off between playing defense and midfield,” Gibbons said. “I hope to go in and make an impact wherever I’ll be most useful but I think heading into the rest of my career, my most potential is at outside back, a fullback position, so hopefully I can start to form relationships with a backline or other defensive members and really move forward from there.”
Gibbons’ teammate at Duke, midfielder/forward Antoinette Payne, also joined FCKC’s draft class after being chosen 13th.
FCKC closed out the draft with UConn’s Stephanie Ribeiro (midfielder/forward, drafted No. 17 overall), Virginia’s Alexis Shaffer (midfielder/forward, No. 25 overall) and Minnesota’s Rashida Beal (defender, No. 35 overall).
“Outside left back and midfielder was something we focused on,” Andonovski said. “Overall I think the draft went very well for us. The players – I would have picked them way sooner. The fact that they dropped to the draft picks that we had was just amazing and makes me even more excited.”
Andonovski was the one handling draft day decisions for the franchise; new general manager Viardin’s time with the team is still fresh.
“He’s trying to get up to speed with everything that’s going on,” Andonovski said of Viardin. “He’s trying to get up to speed on women’s soccer and college soccer. … Just jumping in a week before, it’s not easy. I’m just happy that everything worked out well.”
Going forward under the new ownership regime, Andonovski will retain roster control, too.
“When it comes down to player personnel, I will make all the decisions, and I’m happy that the ownership group trusts me with all those decisions and trusts my knowledge and expertise,” he said. “Hopefully I’ll just be able to make good decisions for the team and organization.”