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.”
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.”
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.