The timing of the Women’s World Cup threw an extra challenge into the National Women’s Soccer League season as teams were forced to play without their stars for several weeks this summer.
And no team handled the transitions quite as gracefully as defending champion FC Kansas City which somehow found solid footing to become the standard for success as the only team to make the playoffs in each of the first three years.
The Blues will begin their postseason campaign with the semifinals at 12:30 p.m. against the Chicago Red Stars at the Chicago Fire’s Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Ill. FC Kansas City enters the match seeded third with a 9-6-5 record. Chicago is second with an 8-3-9 record.
“It’s very impressive and no longer surprising,” NWSL commissioner Jeff Plush said. “I think everyone knew that at some point this year they were going to be clicking and it was probably going to be the second half of the season when it gets to be important and every match is a six-pointer.”
One can look to the solid core of four national-team players in Becky Sauerbrunn, Lauren Holiday, Amy Rodriguez and Heather O’Reilly, who won the World Cup with the U.S. women’s national team.
Or, one could pin it on the former national teamers like Nicole Barnhart and Amy LePeilbet, who stayed back and kept the team on track in their absence.
When it comes down to the math though, FC Kansas City coach Vlatko Andonovski turns his attention to veteran midfielder Jen Buczkowski. She has made it to the playoffs in five of her six professional seasons and is the only player that has started all 66 regular-season matches in NWSL history.
“If it happens once or twice or three times, it is coincidence or luck, but five times, it has something to do with her,” Andonovski said. “It’s been a pleasure having her on the team and she is a person that may not do anything flashy, but she is definitely someone you want to build a team around.”
Even more impressive is the fact that she has done it all while balancing youth coaching and introductory classes for physical therapy school she is considering for next June.
“I’m fortunate to not have any injuries and have my body hold up over the three years,” Buczkowski said. “I keep doing my thing and playing my role. Hopefully that’s what the team needs at the time.”
The consistency is nothing new for Buczkoski, who set a record at Notre Dame for 103 career games. She ranked sixth all-time in the NCAA record book.
That continued into her time in Women’s Professional Soccer with the Philadelphia Independence, where she won the “Iron Woman Award” for playing every minute of the season in 2011.
She repeated the accomplishment in 2013 with FC Kansas City and barely missed the mark the last two years. Overall, she has played 5,848 minutes of the possible 5,940 across 66 games with two goals and six assists in that time.
Even though Amy LePeilbet was playing her first full season after an ACL reconstruction, she and fellow defender Leigh Ann Robinson did accomplish the feat this year, logging 1,800 minutes in the first 20 games. Only four other FCKC players have crossed the 1,000-minute barrier so far. They are Becca Moros, Erika Tymrak, Yael Averbuch and Mandy Laddish.
Sauerbrunn leads the national-team players with 990 minutes in 11 games.
“One of the main reasons (for continued success) is that we kept the core of the team with good leaders that enjoy the philosophy, enjoy the style and believe in what we do,” Andonovski said. “Everyone else that came onto the team, it was easy to buy in when we have some of the best players in the world.”