Like most Olympians, Becky Sauerbrunn, who lived in St. Louis, Mo., grew up playing soccer. She kept playing in college, at the University of Virginia. After college, she had to play more — for free on a semi-professional team, then on a pro team and finally on the Olympic team. So when the Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) league announced their end last summer, Sauerbrunn knew she needed to find somewhere else to play. Sauerbrunn talked to teams in Sweden and Germany, thinking she would have to go overseas just to play soccer. But on Aug. 9, the day before she played for the U.S. against Japan in the Gold Medal Match at the Olympics, it was announced that a new women’s professional soccer league was being formed. Sauerbrunn would no longer be needing her passport. She’d be staying in the Midwest, playing for a newly formed women’s soccer team, FC Kansas City.
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FC Kansas City is one of the eight inaugural teams of the newly-formed National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). Come spring, thousands of fans across the nation will be waiting to see how the first season of the NWSL plays out. In past years, lack of a fanbase, fighting between teams and financial instability were all factors that lead to the eventual collapse of the WPS league early last year.
“The big advantage this time around is the the [United States Soccer Federation] is running the league,” Our Game Magazine writer JJ Duke said. “They will do whatever they can to keep the league alive for many years.”
The NWSL has adopted a more international style this time around. Even FC Kansas’s team name reflects the styles of European soccer with FC standing for “Football Club”. The NWSL was formed with a partnership with the Mexican Football Federation (MFF) and the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA). Together, the three federations will pay for a total of 55 of their top players’ salaries. To spread the wealth, those top 55 players were distributed among the eight teams in the NWSL on Jan 11. The players ranked their top four cities and gave one “veto” city in which they would not play in.
From the allocation, FC Kansas City received Americans Nicole Barnhart, Lauren Cheney and Sauerbrunn. All three players were on the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) that took second at the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup and won gold at the 2012 Summer Olympics.
“[FC Kansas City] was my first choice and I was really lucky that I got it,” Sauerbrunn, who is a defender, said. “It’ll be great just because I’m living in Denver right now with my boyfriend and then my parents and my family are in St. Louis. It’s the best of both worlds for me.”
Having players from all over the world will bring diversity to the field. The drive, determination and speed will be seen from the Canadians. The Mexicans’ always colorful tricks will be much welcomed. While the adaptation of playing as one team in the United States might seem difficult, Sauerbrunn is optimistic.
“It’s not as hard as you think to get everyone on the same page no matter where they are from,” Sauerbrunn said. “I think you learn that you kind of have to step out of your comfort zone. It’s not easy being in a foreign country and speaking a different language but it’s something that if you do and you break out of your comfort zone… it makes it a lot easier for everyone to just get along.”
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With the growing reputation of being a soccer town, Kansas City was chosen as a top city to host a team over cities such as Los Angeles, Vancouver and Philadelphia.
“I really feel like that’s a testament to the growing strength of the soccer community in Kansas City,” junior Cicely Krebill said. Krebill has been a lifelong fan of soccer and plays soccer at Brookside every year. “Kansas City’s really backed the [soccer] program and we’re ready for some more soccer.”
FC Kansas City will help grow young girls’ goals of playing professionally. The league is putting dreams back into place for young girls, in both Kansas City and around the country, who have always wanted to play professional soccer.
“I think it will give girls my age and younger a goal to set instead of just wondering what will happen after graduating and playing in college,” senior Addison Steiner said.
Steiner, a forward, has played on varsity for four years and will be playing soccer at Northwestern University next year. Growing up, she has always wanted to be a professional soccer player.
FC Kansas City will help to inspire other young girls to strive for a career in professional soccer.
“It will hopefully open up people’s eyes to see how important soccer is to girls,” Steiner said.