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If you ask Kansas City Current players to tell you how their worst Cinderella story started, they’ll likely put nine months ago on the calendar — February 2022.

Leaving four weeks of snowy 40-degree weather behind them, the new-look team headed to the Sunshine State and set up camp at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, just south of Tampa Bay.

“During pre-season I kept saying, ‘Something looks different'”, current defender Kristen Edmonds told On Her Turf ahead of Saturday’s NWSL Championship game against the Portland Thorns. “We went to Florida for a month and in the first two days I just had this feeling, for me, something very different this season.”

There have been some obvious changes: a new general manager in Camille Levin Ashtona new head coach matt potterand USWNT star hit additions Sam Mewis and Lynn Williams.

“We were just together constantly. We had meetings in the morning, we trained, we raced together, we started this crazy new lifting program,” said an eight-year NWSL veteran. La Bonta Water. “…I think because we started at square one and everyone bought in, it was very easy to build a successful team.”

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“Honestly, that [was] toughest pre-season I’ve ever had in my entire career,” added Edmonds, who joined the NWSL in 2014. “I don’t know exactly what it was because there were days where I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I’m dead. I need a day off. I need an extra day off. ‘… But just being around the band and us being together all the time, and just the vibes that I was feeling. It just seemed like we had something special, and obviously we did.

“After last year we came with something to prove,” said the midfielder Addie McCain, who joined Kansas City as a rookie in 2021. “So it felt like a fresh start. Everyone seemed to accept what the new staff had to offer, and it paid off pretty well.

To say their efforts paid off is an understatement. Just a season ago, the club kicked off the 2021 campaign with the generic name ‘KC NWSL’ after new owners took over. Playing on a converted baseball field, KC was winless in its first 17 games (including four Challenge Cup games) and only won in mid-August, beating OL Reign 1 -0. They finished the season bottom of the NWSL 10-team table, with a 3-14-7 record.

But the club didn’t let last year’s struggles get in the way of this year’s opportunity, according to Potter, who helped usher in the concept of a new identity for the current from the jump.

“It goes back to preseason where we probably spent more time figuring out what identity we want Kansas City Current to look like on and off the court,” he said.

MORE CURRENT KC COVERAGE: Alex Loera talks about his trip to Kansas City, 2022 NWSL Championship

But the 2022 NWSL season got off to a rocky start. After a strong preseason run that landed the Current in the Challenge Cup semi-finals, KC went into the regular season without any of its star acquisitions when Mewis (knee) and Williams (right hamstring and hip) were both sidelined with season-ending injuries. The Current went winless in its first five games, including a 3-0 loss to the Thorns in their regular season opener.

With Mewis and Williams sidelined, other players stepped in.

“It’s not a starting 11. We literally have a starting 20. Anyone can fall in that,” LaBonta said. “We call them game changers, not subs.”

The tide began to turn on Memorial Day weekend, when KC picked up its first victory of the season, a 1-0 win over Racing Louisville. The triumph kicked off a 13-game unbeaten streak that pushed the Stream into contention for the NWSL Shield in September.

The undefeated streak (the second longest in NWSL history) was punctuated in June by a move to the team’s $18 million training facility, which was entirely privately funded, according to the owners. Angie and Chris Long and co-owner Brittany Mahomeswho founded the team in December 2020. A bespoke 11,500-seat stadium is on track for the 2024 season, marking the first purpose-built stadium for an American women’s soccer team.

“Obviously after a not so good season before, I think a lot of people wouldn’t have thought we could get here,” the midfielder said. Desiree Scott, who played with the two previous versions of the club (Kansas City FC, Utah Royals). “But as the season went on…I think that belief continued to grow with our winning streaks, just the way we were playing…We thought we could get here and we are.

The Current finished the regular season 10-6-6, dropping to fifth in the standings but advancing to their first NWSL playoffs. They earned their place in the final with a 2-0 win over OL Reign, winners of this year’s NWSL Shield. On Saturday night, the Current will face a formidable opponent in Portland, which is contesting its fourth NWSL championship and has won twice before (2013, 2017).

“They have certainly found joy in what they do and we try to improve every day. So if you’re going through those things, then it’s just another opportunity to believe that we can go on and do great things. That’s what we’re preparing for and that’s what hopefully will show up tomorrow night,” Potter said.

“I think the whole group is like, ‘Why can’t we? Why can’t we be the ones who won it all? We’re here,’ echoed the NWSL rookie defender Alex Loera.

MORE KC CURRENT COVERAGE: Lo’eau LaBonta on 2022 success, iconic cells and perseverance through NWSL turmoil

On Her Turf editor Alex Azzi contributed to this report.

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