The inaugural draft allocated Lauren Holiday to FC Kansas City, and a possession-oriented coach quietly celebrated.
First-year women’s manager Vlatko Andonovski spent the ensuing weeks building a system around Holiday, instructing his team to send nearly every offensive possession through its U.S. national team star — a successful endeavor that helped lead to back-to-back championships.
But what do you do when that star retires?
The question has been circulating through the FC Kansas City front office for the past six months since Holiday walked away from the game after the Blues won a second National Women’s Soccer League championship last year.
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A conversation with a returning player offered Andonovski reason for optimism.
“It was not a secret that everything we did went through Lauren,” Andonovski said. “But I had a chance to talk to Heather O’Reilly right before the preseason, and she said, ‘Hey, there are different ways of winning. We don’t have to try to replicate what we did to win in the past. We can find a different way.’
“That’s something that stuck with me.”
I think we’re going to have to establish a little bit more of a gritty mentality.
FC Kansas City’s Heather O’Reilly
In other words, the positive attitude has come around.
But how will it show on the field? FC Kansas City isn’t just replacing Holiday. Forward Amy Rodriguez, also a member of the U.S. national team, is pregnant for the second time and will miss the season.
FC Kansas City thought it had filled the offensive gap when it acquired Sydney Leroux in the offseason, only to find out 10 days later that she and husband Dom Dwyer, a forward with Sporting Kansas City, were expecting their first child. She will also miss the season.
FC Kansas City opens the 2016 season at 7:30 p.m. Saturday against Western New York at Children’s Mercy Park.
“I think we’re going to have to establish a little bit more of a gritty mentality,” O’Reilly said. “I think we still have a lot of our foundation. In terms of the attack, it’s going to be more high-energy. It might look a little bit different this year, but everyone knows that they’re going to have to step up more, and they’re ready to do that.”
The club certainly isn’t stripped of talent.
O’Reilly and captain Becky Sauerbrunn were part of a U.S. women’s national team that won the World Cup last summer. Sauerbrunn anchors a defense that could be the strength of the FC Kansas City team.
“We had some players who maybe didn’t get a lot of playing time in the past that we felt strongly about, and now is their opportunity,” Sauerbrunn said. “Everyone needs to take a little more responsibility. Everyone is going to have to fill in that role that Lauren had. It’s scattered onto a lot of other players.”
Sauerbrunn has been making news outside of NWSL this month. She is one of five players from the World Cup-winning team who have accused the U.S. Soccer Federation of wage discrimination in a complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, in which the women say they are paid nearly four times less than their male counterparts.
U.S. Soccer pays the NWSL salaries of its national-team members. Sauerbrunn said she considers it a separate issue.
“The complaint we filed only deals with the national team, so that doesn’t figure into the NWSL,” Sauerbrunn said. “For right now, we feel good about where we stand with the complaint, so now we’re just focused on NWSL.”