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Immediate aftermath of Potter firing: KC team shocked but go on to win first game of 2023

KC Current captain Lo’eau Labonta, goalscorer Cece Kizer, and interim coach Caroline Sjoblom spoke with the media after defeating Houston 2-0 on Wednesday. The news of Potter’s firing came as a shock as the players said they had no issues with Potter, but they still had to deal with it mentally. They did so as a team.

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Lo’eau LoBonta played Wednesday night’s NWSL Challenge Cup match without the benefit of her usual pregame nap. Instead she spent the time trying to connect with teammates, who were hit with the noon bombshell that Matt Potter had been fired as head coach of the Kansas City Current. Coach firings are not uncommon in sports, but they don’t typically happen on game day. On the road.

Potter was let go following an 0-3-0 start to the National Women’s Soccer League season. In a brief statement, Current general manager Camille Levin cited the record but added: “We keep a pulse on the locker room, and we are constantly evaluating ways to improve our club. Through our ongoing process of continuous improvement, we believe now is the right time for this change.”

Asked directly if she had, or knew of any teammates who had, any negative interactions with Potter, LaBonta said: “No.”

“Not to my knowledge, no,” she continued. “I’ve done numerous interviews with Matt and about Matt, and Matt literally just did one for me. And we’re very truthful people. We had no knowledge that this was going to happen at all. We didn’t have any say in it. It was news to us and where the whole shock came from.”

CeCe Kizer was seated next to LaBonta. When asked if she felt the same, Kizer said she did.

After being told that Potter, who had been with the club in Houston, was no longer the coach, the Current had about six hours until first kick against the Dash at Shell Energy Stadium. LaBonta and Kizer agreed that the speed with which things happened made it impossible to feel much of a true reaction. That will probably come as the team returns home where they will face the Orlando Pride on Sunday.

“A lot of people asked me how I felt after, and I felt I was doing collateral damage (control) and checking in with every single player I could,” LaBonta said. “Especially the ones back home because they weren’t delivered the message face to face. They unfortunately had to get on a phone call because they just weren’t here.

“Everybody has told me to take time and sit on my emotions. But my first thought was, how are my teammates, how is Caroline going to take this new leadership role. And then we have Houston. We have to win a game.”

Caroline is Caroline Sjöblom, the Current’s new interim head coach. The Finnish assistant coach was approached in the morning about becoming the club’s interim coach and was there at the meeting when it was announced her boss had been fired. Interim coaches traditionally have precious little time to put more than a stamp of their personality on a team. In this case, Sjöblom had even less time than that before she was roaming the sideline.

“Of course there have been a lot of emotions today and maybe a little bit of chaos as well,” Sjöblom said after winning in her NWSL coaching debut, 2-0. “From my side, I tried to keep all the  focus on what can we do today. We can be a team today. We can play with a lot of effort. We can play with our heart. We can play with the energy that we have within this group. I think that is what we showed today as well.”

Sjöblom said she pretty much stuck to the game plan laid out by Potter during what had been a short week following Saturday’s match in Chicago. The only change was health related as Hailie Mace was taken out of the lineup due to feeling ill.

Sjöblom said the day was like a rollercoaster, starting with shock and settling at calm. And the former U-19 Sweden coach said it reminded her of some international matches.

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“I’m used to being a head coach,” she said. “This was like a similar situation to being with national teams. Sometimes we have like two practices before playing against Germany. It felt kind of the same. But I was kind of calm today and I think I transcended the calmness to the players.”

The 2-0 win marked the first win in any competition this season for the Current. In three league matches they never led. Still, it seemed abrupt considering the team’s 1-4-1 start to 2022 (after a successful Challenge Cup) that ended with a trip to the NWSL Championship. Add in that many of the team’s offseason acquisitions have been injured, and it just seemed too soon for a coaching change. Only Sjöblom, LaBonta and Kizer were made available to the media. No one from the front office saw fit to be the public face of the day, and so we are left with Levin’s statement from the afternoon release.

For her part, LaBonta dismissed the notion that the team’s best performance of the season was the result of energy brought on by the change.

“I don’t think that was ever absent,” LaBonta said when asked it there was an extra edge to the team against the Dash. “It definitely was there. We got that from Matt. We get that from Caroline. We’ve gotten that from numerous coaches. That’s what you demand here. I couldn’t tell you what it was because it was such a quick turnaround. Believe me, I can’t sleep after games so for the next six hours I’ll probably be thinking about it.

“I don’t know. Maybe it was that we just lost three games in row, and we came together as players. Maybe it has nothing to do with the coaches. I could not tell you. I just know that being out there with the team, we felt great and had a different type of energy. It was great to finally win.”

LaBonta had an idea that energy might be different when she eschewed her nap to do her duty as Current captain by checking in with her shocked teammates.

“What are your initial feelings? I think everybody just said shocked. But I think this team is so competitive and so motivated to win. It wasn’t, alright let’s sit in our feelings, it was what’s next, how do we solve this, what are we going to do now. I thought it was going to be a lot of questions. And I really didn’t have any answers, but we were leaving it open to people to ask or say anything. And then we had a couple of players who don’t usually speak up, speak up and say let’s go now, we have to stay focused on the game.

“I am going to have to sit on it later, when my feet are up.”

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