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Kansas City wins on and off the pitch in Week 1

Saturday’s home opener at CPKC Stadium was a rousing success for the Current

Alex Pfeiffer celebrates after scoring a goal in Kansas City's 5-4 victory against Portland.
Peter Aiken | USA TODAY Sports

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — From cutting the ribbon under an elaborate balloon arch to popping bottles of champagne in the VIP section after the match, Saturday’s home opener at CPKC Stadium was a rousing success for the Kansas City Current and the National Women’s Soccer League. 

CPKC Stadium, which welcomed a capacity crowd of 11,500 excited fans, is the brand-new home of the Current. It is also one of the few purpose-built women’s soccer stadiums in the country. And those fans were in for a treat, as Kansas City defeated longtime rival Portland Thorns FC 5-4.

“Now that we’ve won, I am happy for the three points, but I am so much happier about the stadium, the atmosphere, the moment because this is something that will change the world of women’s soccer,” Kansas City coach Vlatko Andonovski said. 

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Starting hours before kickoff, which was scheduled for 12 p.m. CT, there were thousands of fans waiting outside of the stadium. Adorned in teal and red, they anxiously awaited the opportunity to see their team take the pitch. Many prepared to walk the concourse for the first time. 

Season-ticket holders were invited to an event the previous weekend, where they could tour the stadium, but otherwise, fans had only driven by, peering from the Bond Bridge or scouting out their route on the Riverfront Heritage Trail. 

Fans who gathered by the main entrance were treated to an appearance from two of the most powerful couples in the city in co-owners, Angie and Chris Long, and Brittany and Patrick Mahomes. Mayor Quinton Lucas was also on hand for a ceremonial ribbon cutting. 

Before the first kick, there was a brief performance by Kansas City rapper Tech N9ne, who led the crowd in an echoing chant “KCMO, Oooo Ohhh.” Then, part owners Brittany and Patrick [who you might recognize as the Chiefs’ 2024 Super Bowl–winning quarterback] led the signature “KC Babyyyyy” cheer to further ignite the crowd.

The NWSL commissioner, Jessica Berman, was also there, celebrating the league’s latest advancement.

“It’s so much more than I expected, Berman said during a quick halftime meeting with the media. “We’ve been saying, ‘If you build it, they will come’ internally, and then coming here and actually seeing what it means to actually invest in brick and mortar, physical infrastructure, it’s a game-changer. And they have changed the footprint of the city forever. And, yeah, I think it’ll have an even greater impact than anyone can imagine.”

Kansas City Current and Portland Thorns players on the pitch at CPKC Stadium
Mar 16, 2024; Kansas City, Missouri, USA: A general view of the Portland Thorns FC and the Kansas City Current match at CPKC Stadium. (Photo credit: Jay Biggerstaff | USA TODAY Sports)

The stadium sits along the Missouri River in Kansas City’s Riverfront district. Until now, the space has served as a public park, hosting events like KC Pride Fest just north of downtown.

Eventually, there is a plan to build an entire entertainment district around the stadium and add a stop to the streetcar route, making it easier to access on game days, which will include the Big 12 women’s soccer tournament in 2024 and 2025, as conference commissioner Brett Yormark announced at the women’s basketball tournament last weekend. It could also become an interesting value proposition with Kansas City hosting FIFA men’s World Cup matches in 2026.

“I don’t think one person who was here in the stadium is not going to want to be back for the next game, and they’re gonna tell more people,” Kansas City forward Lo’eau LaBonta said. “Everyone is gonna want to come now because that was a show.”

Andonovski has an interesting perspective on the city’s development, having coached the previous NWSL franchise FCKC from 2013 to 2017. He won two NWSL titles with that squad before moving to Seattle Reign FC and the U.S. women’s national team. His tenure with FCKC actually included the league’s first-ever game, on April 13, 2013, when Portland and Kansas City played to a 1-1 draw at a high school field in the Kansas City suburbs. 

“It’s completely different worlds,” Andonovski said. “Obviously, that was a big day as well for the league, but now to open up the season with something like this is so amazing.”

In terms of the match, Kansas City could not have scripted a much better start.

Vanessa DiBernardo broke through and scored the first goal in the 22nd minute. Debinha had the first shot, but Portland goalkeeper Shelby Hogan blocked it. The ball went rolling across the goal line to DiBernardo, who buried the shot. 

Debinha nearly found the net in the 25th but set up Ellie Wheeler’s first career goal moments later. Her contended header rolled away from the goal line, finding Wheeler’s right foot. 

“It was a surreal moment,” Wheeler said. “When I saw the ball bounce in the box and I knew I was going to get there, my brain was going crazy, but at the same time, I’m telling myself to be calm and just put it in the back of the next like I’ve done hundreds of times.”

She added with a laugh, “And then I was swarmed.”

One of the only low points of the match was Debinha’s exit in the 32nd minute with a hamstring injury. Kristen Hamilton replaced her. Debinha, a Brazilian national who led the Current with nine goals in 2023, is undergoing further evaluation this week.

Bia Zaneratto extended the Current lead in the 34th minute, and Portland’s young star Sophia Smith put the Thorns on the board. Midway through the second half, the Current went on another run, with Hamilton scoring in the 64th minute and Alex Pfeiffer scoring in the 68th off an assist from Temwa Chawinga. With that goal, Pfeiffer became the youngest in league history to score. 

“That was a moment within a moment,” Andonovski said. “It’s huge for any player in her generation. She proved that it’s possible.”

Portland went on a late run with two goals from Janine Beckie, who was returning to the pitch for the first time in 366 days after having sustained an ACL injury, and one more from Smith. However, the rally fell short. 

“We have so much to learn still about each other and game management and how we want to play as a team, but the fact that we checked the first box, it’s onto the next one,” LaBonta said.

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