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NWSL preseason preview: Abby Smith and Kansas City

When you survive multiple teams dissolving, everything happens so much.

Utah Royals FC v Portland Thorns FC Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer/ISI Photos/Getty Images

Welcome back to our NWSL 2021 preseason preview! Today we’ve got goalkeeper Abby Smith, who’s embarking along with the rest of Kansas City on a new adventure. They’re in a bit of a middle ground, having come with some core roster players from their known setup in Utah to a new franchise with new owners.

You can find our previews interviews linked below!

Jess McDonald

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length. It was originally recorded on February 5.

All for XI: How’s the vibe in preseason so far?

Abby Smith: It’s been good. I think everyone’s super excited that we’re finally here. Not finally in a good environment, because we were in a good environment in Utah. Everything just kind of happened so quickly. But I think it’s a fresh start. So everyone’s really excited about that. And it seems like everyone from the past Kansas City fans are really excited that we’re back. And the ownership and the coaching staff and the group that’s basically organizing everything - basically, our front office staff and everyone are super excited for us to be here. So they hit every single detail.

AfXI: I can’t imagine what it was like when you guys first heard all the news, and the Dell Loy news broke? It seemed like that was probably a rough time emotionally waiting to find out what was going to happen to you guys.

AS: It was pretty messy to be completely honest. It was stressful, but also it was just like, there was so much unease of the whole year last year. And once all that happened, we were just like, we’re ready for a break. Obviously this year has been a lot. Let’s just not add to it anymore.

AfXI: Right. Can things stop happening for like, a week? For you in particular, the team going bye-bye hit you twice after the Breakers and then Utah - are you okay?

AS: Right? Literally, I was thinking that as soon as that happened. I was like, I think I’m the only player that has come through this twice, literally within the last five years. It was one thing from Kansas to up and move and everyone was really upset. But Boston folded and just completely like... Then, with Utah, everything happened so quickly, that no one really had any closure. So I think that’s been pretty tough because everyone moved out of market with the impression that we’re going back to Salt Lake, hoping that there was an owner, because we were told there had been buyers and people interested in Salt Lake.

AfXI: I just remember after Boston folded, trying to track down every single rumor.

AS: It was the same situation there where they were like, well, we do have buyers, we do have people interested, but nothing came to fruition. And it was just like, okay, well, how many people are actually interested in buying and who actually are going to put their name by it?

AfXI: So who actually has, like $10 million lying around.

AS: You had heard about all of it? The Qualtrics guy and then the Miller family [were reported as potential buyers]. But then he went and bought the Jazz so that happened. [laughing]

AfXI: I mean, for all the guys who like to talk a big game, like we need to support women’s sports, any investors out there?

AS: Put your money where your mouth is!

AfXI: I gotta say when Naomi Osaka was like, oh, I guess I will just buy a women’s soccer team. She just did it. She didn’t tweet about it and then not do it for 10 years. She just did it.

AS: Just a little salty.

AfXI: You guys are in KC, preseason started. I know different players have different statuses; some of the players that they picked, they’re going to finish out college. New structure to the season, starting with Challenge Cup. No Olympic break, regular season starts May. How are you guys feeling about that?

AS: I feel like everyone is still - it’s week one. So yeah, that’s way, way down the line, because we do have 10 weeks of preseason. And so I think everyone’s just really excited that we’re finally back at training. And we’re in an environment where we can consistently get touch, physio, and train and feel somewhat safe. Because in your home environment, there’s only so much that you can do to prevent getting COVID. And I think that’s the tough part is like so many people are following the precautions and trying to be careful, but then you never know.

AfXI: Right? It just takes one person at the wrong place, wrong time.

AS: Exactly, exactly. And so I think here, it’s helpful because everyone’s getting tested. We all know that if one person gets it, it’s going to infect the entire team. So we’re responsible for not only ourselves, but holding each other accountable. We’re just trying to be as careful as humanly possible. And hope the vaccine hurries up.

AfXI: The Challenge Cup happened, the Fall Series happened, but it’s not the same as a regular season. How do you guys feel? Coming out of that, in 2021 you’re gonna have, hopefully, a full regular season and a playoff and a championship?

AS: Yeah, I think it’s hard to wrap your mind around the fact that last year actually happened and we’re still living through it right now. Like, truthfully, I feel like it’s just like an extended 2020.

AfXI: It’s still March 2020.

AS: Yeah. So I think once we’re able to go and have somewhat of a normal season where we have games and maybe more fans and everyone’s not so on edge about it. Like we obviously need to be careful, but not to a point where you can’t even interact with people. And I think once that happens, then it’ll feel a little bit better. And we’ll feel like we’re moving forward. I think the tough part is last year, everything was so up and down. Because if you think about it, we had three preseasons. We had two days. And then that got shut down. And then prior to the tournament, that was like a mini preseason then. And then we had a month and a half off. And then we had another preseason period before the Fall Series.

AfXI: I guess in that sense, it must be nice to have a much longer runway for preseason, because even in non-COVID years preseason was really short.

AS: Which, it wasn’t that bad. Because we would have five weeks of a preseason, but you would have an extra month of making sure that you’re in shape, and most people would come in already in shape. Maybe not game shape. But fitness, the level was really high. Everyone was ready to go. So that was kind of helpful when we had a short preseason. But it was also like a crash course. I think this preseason, with us having 10 weeks, we’ll be able to actually hammer things out, try things out, have mistakes, evaluate, and then kind of go from there. I think that will be beneficial. But it will also be an adjustment for everybody because it’s twice as long as the preseason. And I don’t know if anybody’s really had that long of a preseason before.

AfXI: What do you guys hope to be at the end of preseason as a team? Strictly speaking on the field, what do you want to look like?

AS: I think we want to, obviously, be a hard-working team that can not only play, but we want to score goals, we want to be a team that not necessarily would be feared, but we want it to be a hard game for people. We want to have people think that when they’re going to play us, they know that we’re going to be able to be dynamic and diverse in every single way and be as challenging as possible. So I think, for us, it’s a completely new environment. We have a whole new coaching staff. So taking that into account, where we have a fresh start, and it’s a clean slate. So I think everyone’s on a level playing field. And we want to just come out and prove that we have something to prove.

AfXI: I think also to a certain extent, you guys did import some of your core from Utah, like you’ve got Nicole Barnhart, A-Rod, and then Desiree Scott and Diana Matheson are supposed to report after SheBelieves. But also I was looking at the preseason roster that the team dropped. And, you know, there’s a lot of new names here. There’s some NRIs. Does it feel like, look, don’t make any judgments about us, based on what we did as the Royals, because it’s not the same team?

AS: Well I think it’s the same year to year whether it’s us being moved from Salt Lake City to Kansas City, or North Carolina from [Western New York]. I think we don’t want to be judged based off of that. But knowing that we do have a good core like that helps. We know how each other plays, and we know each other in and out. And so that’s beneficial, but also we’re in a new environment and a new coaching staff. What they’re asking of us is very different than what our previous staff has asked from us.

AfXI: So you said it’s week one, so I assume it’s all testing right now, fitness testing, baselines?

AS: No, we’re just kind of getting back into the hang of things and getting more touches because everybody had a hard time being at home having as consistent of an environment without really putting yourself at risk. And so we’re just kind of getting back into the feel of being back on the field for an hour-and-a-half, two hours, and getting back into the gym and having our body adjust to play at the high level that we want to be at again. And then I think this week has been really good. It’s been fun being back on the field, but it’s also challenging because I am tired.

AfXI: I mean, from a goalkeeper’s perspective, how does it feel being out there? It’s you, Carly Nelson, Tristin Stuteville, and Nicole Barnhart. Is that the goalkeeper group that you guys have?

AS: Yeah, so we have four of us. It’s been good. We’ve been working a lot on our technical side of the game. Just to kind of get back into the hang of things. We really hit the ground running, just because we in the goalkeeper group, we start practice early, and then we kind of go into the flow of training. But it’s been really fun. I feel like we’ve been working really hard and it’s only been four or five days.

AfXI: That does feel good whenever I have structure these days, because it’s so easy for the whole week to melt into one thing.

AS: I don’t even know what day it is half the time I wake up. I’m like, I think it’s Wednesday. [ed. note: It was Friday]

AfXI: I think the worst I’ve ever been was it was a Friday and I thought it was still Tuesday.

AS: When it’s that bad, that’s when you’re like, okay, that’s too much.

AfXI: I wanted to wrap up doing more fun questions, not talking about the pandemic and how weird last year was. So rapid fire. What kind of cleats are you wearing? And do you have any that you really prefer?

AS: Okay, I am wearing the Nike Phantom. The pink, black, and white cleats.

Leicester City v West Ham United - Premier League Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images

AfXI: Oh, nice. A lot of people are saying a Nike Tiempo. But I’m assuming you have different needs as a goalkeeper.

AS: Really just depends on what you like. I’m pretty classic. Those have been pretty awesome for me personally, just because I have really wide feet. I really like those. I’ve really like the pink in them.

AfXI: What are you watching or reading or playing right now?

AS: I shouldn’t be watching anything, because I need to be doing homework. I’m in my master’s program and I haven’t been doing my homework as diligently as I should be. So here we are. I have two classes due at the end of this month. And I’m just kind of like, chugging along.

[Smith is pursuing an MBA at Western Governors University]

AfXI: A player on the team right now, who deals best with winter? And who deals with the worst with winter?

AS: Oh. I don’t know. That’s a great question because we just got here and some people are used to this. And so they’re like, oh, this is nothing, but I don’t think anybody does really well with poor winters, like when it’s in the negatives. So I would just take that as an all around L for everyone.

AfXI: Yeah, that’s fair. If you had to sum up your 2020 in a few words, or a sentence, if possible.

AS: Okay. Does it have to be appropriate?

AfXI: No, it can be as inappropriate as you want it to be.

AS: What. The actual. F? [laughing]

AfXI: Yeah, every single day. It felt like there was some new What now? Like, what now? And it’s continuing into 2021. Oh, people are invading the capital. Oh, the stock market is crashing, like GameStop is something. Okay, cool. I’m just gonna go with it because I’m not in control of my life anymore.

AS: Yeah, I would probably say like, what is actually happening right now.

AfXI: And if you had to sum up your hopes for 2021 in a few words or a sentence.

AS: I’m hoping that we take everything from 2020 and we learn and we grow from it and not have a repeat.

AfXI: And then last one, if you could say anything to the fans and KC - I know the Blue Crew has been reassembling. They’re like the Avengers getting back together. They’re so excited. What would you say to them?

AS: We back!