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FC Kansas City suddenly loaded with attacking options

Shea Groom (left) will have the luxury of playing with Amy Rodriguez and Sydney Leroux this season (photo copyright EriMac Photo for Equalizer Soccer)

Shea Groom (left) will have the luxury of playing with Amy Rodriguez and Sydney Leroux this season (photo copyright EriMac Photo for Equalizer Soccer)

It’s no secret FC Kansas City’s 2016 season did not go nearly as expected. A team that was traditionally successful, and that was originally returning some dangerous attacking options found itself near the  bottom of the NWSL table last year.

An offense that was often led solely by young forward Shea Groom (she scored eight of FCKC’s 18 goals in 2016) sputtered, and the team missed the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.

Defensively, Kansas City was around the same level it had always been; teams still had a hard time getting past head coach Vlatko Andonovski’s signature backline, and veteran goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart. But FCKC was near the bottom of the NWSL in goals scored, and was one of only two teams in the league that didn’t make it to 20 goals by the end of the season.

{MORE:  FC Kansas City team preview:  the road back to the top}

That weakness could flip this season: Goal-scoring has rocketed to the top of the list of Kansas City’s strengths, and the only problem now is how to effectively use all the resources.

Not only is Groom returning to Kansas City, but joining her are two of the national team-caliber players who were supposed to play alongside her last year. Both Sydney Leroux (Dwyer) and Amy Rodriguez became pregnant before the 2016 season, taking the USWNT forwards out of commission for the entire season. And both will make their returns to the field with Kansas City in the coming weeks.

Although Andonovski has always been known for his defensive prowess, a more realistic option this year may feature an attack-oriented formation.

“We have a lot of forwards now, a lot more options,” Groom said. “I think you’ll see all three of us up there quite a bit, and it’ll be interesting to see how those pieces come together; we could be looking at a 4-3-3.”

A 4-3-3 could be the best option at utilizing the sudden plethora of talent in Kansas City. Rodriguez has produced for the team before; she scored 13 goals in 22 games with FCKC in 2014, and helped lead the team to an NWSL Championship. While Leroux hasn’t yet suited up for FCKC in a match yet, she’s produced at the national level (six goals in 11 caps in 2014).

And Groom came into her own last year, when the offense ran through her.

“Last year being on my own taught me to be creative and to create when there wasn’t a lot there,” she said.

Even behind the three main forwards, there is a depth FCKC was missing last year: Erica Tymrak returns to the team as well, after helping lead Melbourne City to a W-League title in the offseason.

{CUT DOWN DAY:  All 10 NWSL release opening day rosters}

“There are so many choices,” Andonovski said, in a stark contrast to his situation last year. “As a coach, it’s a good problem to have. We have several players that can play multiple positions there, so I’m still trying to figure it all out.”

It helps that the team won’t exactly be smashing unfamiliar pieces together: Groom and Leroux have been working together in the offseason since roughly November. Leroux and Rodriguez have played extensively on the national team together. And Rodriguez and Groom have played together in Kansas City before, during Groom’s first year in the league.

“Working with A-Rod my rookie year, she kind of helped me start my professional career and then I got to kind of find myself last year,” Groom said. “And Syd and I have been working together for months and have built not only a friendship but a partnership and a really good chemistry.”

The time to see Kansas City’s three-pronged attack is coming: The team’s last preseason game is Monday against the University of Kansas, and both Rodriguez and Leroux are quickly regaining their form. Rodriguez has already notched minutes with the national team again, and Leroux has made her way back to the pitch quickly, after giving birth only seven months ago. Combined with Groom, it’s a nasty combination of attacking talent.

“They complement each other very well,” Andonovski said. “You have A-Rod breaking the lines, you have Shea winning balls in the air, you have Syd taking people on. They’re all going to bring something that maybe the other player won’t.”

“I might be a little bit more defensive at times, but I think it gives me a little bit more freedom to come in, and lose the defenders,” Groom said. “I think A-Rod brings that presence in the middle; she’s just irritating for defenders. She’s so quick and explosive with her runs. And Syd, the same thing – she cuts in and just rips the shots.

“I think it’s going to be a deadly force if we can figure it out and really make it work together.”

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