Playing with more freedom, Cece Kizer and her clutch play have elevated the KC Current

kansascity.com 12 days ago
KC Current forward Cece Kizer celebrates after scoring the tying goal during an NWSL game against the Chicago Red Stars on June 18 at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas. Nick Tre. Smith

The Kansas City Current’s acquisition of Cece Kizer might turn out to be one of the trades of the season in the National Women’s Soccer League.

The Overland Park native has been playing at a torrid pace since her first match for the Current, scoring and assisting when the team has needed it the most.

The most goals she’s scored in a season to date? Five, over a period of nearly 2,000 minutes. If she keeps to her current pace, she’s bound to surpass that by the end of the 2022 campaign.

Since being acquired via an in-season trade with Racing Louisville, Kizer has played in six matches with a total of 548 minutes. She has scored three goals and notched an assist. Based on her total minutes played with the Current, she’s averaging nearly a goal or assist per 90 minutes.

And so far, every one of the goals in which she’s been involved here has been either a game-winner or equalizer.

Clutch Kizer? The moniker seems to fit.

After Sunday’s 2-2 draw with Orlando, in which she scored the late tying goal, Kizer noted that part of the difference in how she’s been playing of late is owing to how coach Matt Potter has deployed her.

“In my role here, I feel like I have more freedom,” she said. “It’s not as structured, and I’m playing more as a nine and more of a high forward rather than in the 10 and deeper in the midfield.”

It’s a big difference. Watching Louisville this season — before the trade that sent Kizer to KC — you could tell she was that team’s most creative player.

She scored against the Current in their opening Challenge Cup match at Kentucky, combining with Jess MacDonald on a scintillating counter-attack followed by a deft finish. But in Racing’s second visit to KC, a 1-0 Current victory that launched their eight-match unbeaten streak, Kizer was deployed too far from goal to make an impact.

Now, starting higher up the field, she’s able to drop into pockets of space and use her creativity in a much more efficient — and consistently effective — way.

“When I first got here, Matt told me that this season they’ve been playing with a lot of freedom in their nines and 10s, encouraging creativity in the attacking half,” Kizer told The Star on Thursday. “Coming in, that’s exactly what you want to hear as a creative attacking player.”

Kizer would call her position more of a false nine, which fits. Since her arrival, Potter has generally played with just two up top — Kizer and Kristen Hamilton. Hamilton is adept at running off the back shoulder, and Kizer prefers the ball at her feet. The synergy between the two actions comes together and confuses opposing backlines.

Teammates such as Lo Labonta and Victoria Pickett fill out the midfield underneath Kizer, and their ability to flood empty pockets of space through the middle and into the attacking third allows Kizer to find the spots she needs.

“To come in and play with Hammy or Elyse (Bennett) running higher above me, and then having Lo and Vic underneath me, is a good spot that I want to be in,” Kizer said. “I feel like I’m able to be higher up on the field and get into the box and help create those opportunities.”

The Current’s tying goal against Orlando showed what happens when Kizer finds space and freedom. A perfectly weighted ball over the top from Labonta allowed her to run onto it and beat the keeper.

Another clutch goal for a hometown crowd that included nearly all of her family.

“They tell me after games, ‘We love the adrenaline rush of when you score!’” Kizer said. “So to be able to do that in Kansas City, in front of my hometown, and in front of my family is just an incredible feeling.”

Observers around the league are starting to take notice of what’s happening in Kansas City. Four Current players were selected to the NWSL Team of the Month: keeper AD Franch, Kristen Edmonds, Hailie Mace and Labonta were honored for their performances over the month of July.

What’s more, the Current’s eight-game unbeaten streak has included wins or ties against all of the teams above them on the table, including Sunday afternoon’s opponent: the top team in the standings, the San Diego Wave. Kickoff is 4 p.m. Central.