FC Kansas City teammates laud Sauerbrunn as world’s best center back

Jeff Husted August 29, 2014 30
Becky Sauerbrunn is considered by teammates and some opponents to be the best center back in the world. (Photo Copyright Erica McCaulley for The Equalizer)

Becky Sauerbrunn is considered by teammates and some opponents to be the best center back in the world. (Photo Copyright Erica McCaulley for The Equalizer)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — In the short history of the National Women’s Soccer League, FC Kansas City has enjoyed the most success on the field. Offensively, Lauren Holiday, Erika Tymrak, and Amy Rodriguez light up the scoreboard, but an argument can be made that their success stems from their defense more than anything. Kansas City has accumulated a .609 winning percentage in two seasons, only allowing 54 goals and accumulating more shutout victories than any other team.

The undisputed leader of that defense, Becky Sauerbrunn, was named the 2014 NWSL Defender of the Year on Tuesday. This is the second year in a row that she earned the award, making her the only repeat-winner in NWSL history.

From the outside, a person needs to only attend one of FCKC’s training sessions to see the impact Sauerbrunn has on her team.

As players arrive on the training field and begin stretching, they all keep an eye on their captain. All conversations and activities stop the moment Sauerbrunn begins to take a light jog around the field. Suddenly, the entire team forms behind her for the unofficial start to practice.

Coming from ‘The Show Me State’, the St. Louis, Mo., native takes her state’s motto to heart as she prefers to lead with her actions on the field.

“She’s definitely a lead by example person,” says veteran defender Leigh Ann Robinson. “When we’re doing technical drills at practice, things like that, she’s always doing them to a ‘T’. You look at her and think, ‘ok that’s how I’m going to work…that’s how I’m going to do it.’ Obviously, being around great players makes you better, but she’s made our entire back line a whole other level better.”

[MORE: Complete coverage of 2014 NWSL final  |  KC looking to bring another title to city]

In two seasons with FC Kansas City, Sauerbrunn has directed the team to fewer goals allowed, more shutouts and more wins than any other team. Incredibly, in 41 games along the way she has committed only seven fouls and been given one yellow card.

“She’s so good at what she does and so smart, she doesn’t need to foul,” said rookie and fellow defender Kassey Kallman. “It’s not that she’s not aggressive, because she is. She just doesn’t need to foul to get the ball. When someone from the other team is passing the ball up the field, Becky leaves to pick off the pass before it’s even left her foot. She rarely steps and doesn’t win the ball.”

Kallman was FC Kansas City’s first round draft pick in 2014 and has been a starter on the team’s backline for much of the season. Joining a backline with Sauerbrunn, Robinson and Nikki Phillips, three players who have all represented their national teams at the highest level, she appreciates any help she can get.

“It’s pretty awesome being on the backline with her, especially my rookie year,” says Kallman. “I’ve learned so much from her. If I have questions I’ll go up to her, if she sees something she’ll point it out to me, but just watching her…her positioning, her winning the ball, and even her offensive play. I learn from all of those things.”

Sauerbrunn made a name for herself playing in WPS and is often cited as one of the reasons having a domestic professional league is so important.

After a head-turning season with the Washington Freedom, she was a last-minute addition to the 2011 Women’s World Cup qualifying roster. She ended up making the team that traveled to Germany and then filled in admirably during the semifinal match while Rachel Buehler was suspended. Since then, she has been called to nearly every USWNT camp and has solidified her position as a starting center back for FIFA’s number one ranked team.

“I think she’s the best defender in the world,” says Lauren Holiday, her teammate on both FC Kansas City and the national team. “There are lots of good players, but she is the best at what she does, hands down.”

That’s an honor others have bestowed upon Sauerbrunn, including Portland Thorns FC coach Paul Riley before last week’s semifinal.

“I feel like she makes everyone else’s job around her so easy,” adds Robinson. “Not only is she commanding our back line and keeping everyone on point, but she’s also winning balls and then distributing into our midfielders…into our forwards to where we can then create an attack off of her.”

Vlatko Andonovski (right) and Becky Sauerbrunn. (Photo Copyright: Thad Bell | http://www.tpbphoto.com/)

Vlatko Andonovski (right) and Becky Sauerbrunn. (Photo Copyright: Thad Bell | http://www.tpbphoto.com/)

What fans love about Sauerbrunn, is that she is so approachable off the field. Most often, she is the last one off the field following a game as she tries not to miss a single autograph request, photo opportunity or media interview. She is equally comfortable with U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati or a member of the Blue Crew supporters group.

“I think the coolest part is how she’s the best player in the country…the world and you don’t even feel that when you’re around her,” Kallman remarks. “She’s down to earth, so normal, always looking to talk to anyone. You don’t realize how ‘big-time’ you are around her because she is so humble.”

In December 2012, after the initial NWSL allocations were announced, Sauerbrunn was the first player to visit Kansas City. Coming in for a quick publicity tour, she signed hundreds of autographs and joined the broadcast crew of a Missouri Comets game at halftime.

In that interview she mentioned many times about how excited she was to be coming to the city. She laid out many goals she had for her time here. Chief among them were to help fans embrace FC Kansas City, to help her team be successful on the field and to help bring home a championship.

Sauerbrunn has knocked down two of those goals. This Sunday she could go three-for-three as her team faces Seattle Reign FC for the NWSL championship. Win or lose, one thing is for sure: Kansas City’s defense is in good hands with her in control.

  • Steglitz49

    It could be argued that the headline is a bit of hubris, isn’t it?

    • guest

      Thought you followed EQ?

      • Steglitz49

        It is the WQ not the OTT.

  • fanfrom1995

    1. One of the reasons I like watching FCKC is Becky, who is the definitely the best centerback in the US. Not sure about the world, as I do not follow all of the leagues, but I do like the headline. 😉
    2. The fact that she was seen in WPS and given a spot on the NT shows how a national league is supposed to work. Just sayin’
    3. On another note, I hope KC wins the championship. Big fan of Holiday and Tymrak.

    • Steglitz49

      Were KC to win on a goal by ARod assisted by Hagen, that would put the cat among the pigeons. Should Sarah score one of her own, that would put a pride of lions among the turkey vultures.

    • Nadine Keßler(best midfielder)

      Best center world in the world is without any question Sweden’s Nilla Fischer.

      • Tom F

        NO WAY!!! just look at these highlights where Fisher falls on her butt twice in her team’s demoralizing beating they got
        I’ve always favored Lauren Sesslemann at cb. But then again I like to look at the whole picture

        • newsouth

          Sesselmann, the penalty in the box Queen, LOL!

          • Tom F

            well she better of made your all ‘morena squad’ but otherwise you got impossible standards! lol

        • Steglitz49

          Provided England keep improving, they will be a dark horse in WC-15 together with Norway. The Swedes, unfortunately are not only yesterday’s team but that of 2-3 years ago, if not longer. Bye, bye turnips.

        • Nadine Keßler(best midfielder)

          Lost 4:0 in a bad meaningless friendly after having a tremendous one year. She is still one of the best if not the best.

  • Titi14

    The thing she is regarded as one of the best in US, debatable in the world is that she has got great technical skills besides her defensive skills.
    The defenders always have loads of possession in the game and the focus is always on them to recycle the attack and change direction. Becky because of her understanding and reading of her game, will most often make the right pass.
    People laud Beckenbaur for his offensive skills and Becky gets the same recognition as well in that her offensive play is really good. Most defenders just kick the ball up field.

    This brings to another interesting question. What are people doing with children below the age where by Defenders are not going enough with ball on thier feet or good at passing. They should be all good at playing with their feet. As a Thorns fan, I look at Menges and she is just wild old school, partnering her with RVH and both of them just tend to boot it. Not much thinking play going on. Basic balls skills should be required.

  • NYRick

    This is nice to see Becky getting this kind of recognition and laurels. It seems a very short time ago (maybe even 1.5 years ago) she was more of a fringe NT starter (if that), but this particular coach and Rampone’s injury problems/age the last few years have truly helped her emerge.

    Great to see such a humble, hard working player develop into a true star. They should give her the captain’s armband for the upcoming WC. If Rampone still wears it, she is classless. She should be a true leader and transition the team properly to it’s next generation. Same with Abby with the talented forwards. Take the lesser role, enjoy who you are and what you accomplished and be a mentor…and more important a leader. The program comes first, not your ego or trophy case. I think that’s what on the surface seems so refreshing about Brunn.

    • newsouth

      Hagen should have Wambach’s spot on the roster. If the German can do it to Donovan, then Ellis should be able to do it to Wambach. Plus Hagen holds the ball better.

      • Steglitz49

        JE’s position is unenviable. If the NT does not win the WC, her name is mud. Thus, she might as well be blamed for her own mistakes than the opinion of others. Nevertheless, there are certain choices already made for her. Briefly, provided that they are healthy and fit, Hope, Alex and Abby are in.

        The wise approach would be to select Hagen and have Abby as her alternate. Sarah plays 70-75′ and Abby comes on as the night watchwoman. With Alex as a given provided she is fit, that leaves max 2 other strikers to pick. Pick away, starting now.

        • NYRick

          Hagen and Abby do not make the roster together. That much is obvious. Hagen is completely out of the picture. Not fair, but reality.

          • Steglitz49

            Your point is well taken. I was trying to encourage NewSouth by solving her/his riddle. Like Alexander, I did not even try to unpick the tangled web but cut through it with my rapier.

            JE must take Abby unless Abby puts her paw up and asks to be excused. In this JE has no choice. My proposal was a way of covering her backside by including a player who can play like a traditional CF and essentially be Abby’s alter ego (not sure about the ego, but never mind, it is all Greek to me anyway).

            If KC wins the NWSL on a goal by ARod laid on by Sarah, we will have fun.

      • NYRick

        I’m not going to inflame this board, so I will keep it simple by just saying that in my opinion Abby is much, much more powerful and influential to the US program than Donovan ever was. As absurd as that may sound. That has a lot to do with the fact that the US women’s program has been a top 2 or 3 program for over two decades with Abby there for about dozen years. She has earned some street cred, but by no means the power they give her still. Not with the younger talent at hand. If she was 75% healthy next summer she is on the WC roster, probably with a significant role.

        I know you are a big Rampone fan, but really same goes for her as well. At 40, she should not start. This superwomen, freak of nature stuff is ridiculous. She did not look particularly good even at the OG12. On the back line, this is Brunn’s team and her captaincy now. And Brunn’s running mate back there anchoring things is JJ. For speed they are going to have to rely on Dunn and KO to get back in time when called upon.

        • dw

          Rick, WNT was number 1 when Abby arrived on the scene. And they haven’t been any more dominant with Abby, than with Mia, perhaps the opposite. Whereas where was MNT pre-Donovan?

          • Steglitz49

            Not altogether a fair comparison because we do not know where the USWNT would have been without Abby. Granted that in OG-08, they managed without her, so your position is not totally without merit but far from ironclad.

    • mockmook

      “They should give her the captain’s armband for the upcoming WC. If Rampone still wears it, she is classless.”

      Don’t the players have most, if not all, the say in who the captain is?

      Rampone is respected for the hard work she has done for 15 years for USWNT. She may still be the fastest player, still is one of the fittest. Still playing great defense. No reason she shouldn’t accept the armband with honor.

      • NYRick

        It’s about Rampone being a true leader and transitioning the team properly. At 40, she should no longer be captain, and this fittest and fastest thing is a myth too. Dunn is faster, I would bet KO is too and no one is more fit than KO out there.

        A good transition, which should be encouraged and influenced by Ellis, is to turn over the captaincy to Brunn. This team/program has been selfish for too long, with stars first, program second. It would be a great message for Rampone to send. She’ll never do it (her ego will get in the way), but it’s the right thing to do and would be a rallying point for the team.

        And I think if you asked the players privately, not politically, they would be all for it. This is about changing the culture and karma of the last 16 years and win the WC. As Elton John best said in one of his songs, “Change will do you good.”

        • newsouth

          Based on this season in the NWSL, I still think Rampone is faster, but Dunn reacts faster. There’s no issue with Rampone’s downhill speed but if you shift her East – West then the errors go through the roof. Agreed, she shouldn’t be captain anymore, should join Wambach on the bench, as a backup. Ellis should have them there just to take the last ride. I guess you can add Boxx to the short list too if they are giving them one last run for their service.

        • mockmook

          Again, I believe the players already have a say, and they keep saying “Rampone”–I assume the voting is secret.

          And, to call out Rampone for ego is a laugh. I can’t remember her ever doing anything to draw attention to herself (except play great football and run down forwards on a breakaway).

  • guest

    Becky is a good centerback, no doubt, but enough with the “best in the world” talking point. There has been no contest amongst the CBs of the world so crowning one the best is a matter of personal (American) opinion. Every media talking head keeps regurgitating it like a parrot. Case in point, now they’re harassing her teammates to get them to say it too.

    Also, watch out Becky. The fall from that impossibly high pedestal is going to hurt.

    • necron99

      You mean like when everyone kept saying it about France’s Wendie Renard. Even though Abby jumped over her to score in WWC 2011? And this year Alex turned her in the box and scored too.

  • dw

    Wow, more media hyper-hyperbole. Why not just crown her “best ever” and get it over with. Certainly Broon is the best we have right now. But there’s no real evaluation of international CB’s at all. Holliday is only a passing judge at best. She (probably) doesn’t watch much international play (both league and friendlies) to be much of a discerning figure. She may see the other top CB’s, but only in “under siege” mode that USWNT puts opposing internationals under, where Broon sees much more action in the league than in WNT games. Take just one example, Nilla Fischer. OK, here’s another, Annike Krahn.

    • newsouth

      The only way this can be answered is, putting Brunn against VW if KC wins and see if she fairs better than Kling and Engen

      • Steglitz49

        The team is called Wolfsburg. It is, granted, a subsidiary of VW — the CEO of VW is the Chairman of the club — but only two companies are properly allowed to have their name in the club name: Bayer and Philips. The women’s team ofWolfsburg are nicknamed the “Shewolves”.

  • Nadine Keßler(best midfielder)

    Best center world in the world is without question Sweden’s Nilla Fischer