On Thursday afternoon, Heather O’Reilly (a midfielder) and Katie Bowen (a defender) took turns standing in the net at FC Kansas City practice, competing to see how many shots they could save as goalkeepers.
The mood was loose, albeit bittersweet, as it was the last time this version of FCKC would train together. The Blues, 6-5-8, close their season at 4 p.m. Saturday in Orlando, Fla., taking on the Pride, 6-1-12, in the final game of the 2016 season.
The team will start to disperse nearly as soon as they’re able to change out of their jerseys and pack their bags. In the National Women’s Soccer League, it’s rare for players to remain in the city after the season concludes.
“Some people are leaving from Orlando; some people are leaving the day after,” Bowen said. “Some are leaving a week after. But we all had a team dinner at Vlatko’s last night, and that was kind of our farewell,” she said, referring to head coach Vlatko Andonovski.
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Ahead is one of the longest offseasons you’ll find in professional sports: For teams that don’t make the playoffs, like FCKC this year, players will have a full five months without NWSL soccer until preseason training begins in March. Between actual games, the break will be closer to six months.
So how to fill the time?
Many play in leagues overseas; others go home or return to their college campuses to train. Some take a break from soccer to earn extra money from seasonal jobs.
“I’ll be here in KC just training and doing some work on the side,” said FCKC forward Shea Groom, who is trying to find a job in event management. “I’ve always been a big advocate for building my resume outside of soccer because when it does come to an end, I don’t want to be shocked.”
Still, others will take the NWSL offseason as a long-awaited opportunity to relax. Bowen, after her graduation ceremony at the University of North Carolina in December, will go home to New Zealand for the first time since last Christmas. Becky Sauerbrunn, after a few more national team obligations, will finally get a break after months of zipping between club and country teams.
“I’ll get some time off near the end of the year, which will be nice,” she said. “I’m definitely going on vacation and doing absolutely nothing for a while.”
As everyone goes their separate ways beginning Saturday, it will be with a desire to quickly erase the memory of the worst FCKC season in franchise history. The two-time league champions were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention weeks ago, the first time the team has missed the postseason.
Still, the end of anything — even disappointments — comes with a level of nostalgia.
“You’ve gotten close to people this year, and it is hard to kind of walk away from it,” Bowen said. “It’s kind of sad. It’s not going to be exactly the same next year. You don’t know what familiar faces you’re going to see, or what new ones. It’s bittersweet.”