KC opens 'game-changing' stadium with 5-4 win

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Current ushered in the grand opening of CPKC Stadium, the first stadium built specifically for a National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) team, in style on Saturday, defeating the Portland Thorns 5-4 in a match that tied a league record for most total goals.

“I think this game was brilliant, to have both teams score, because I don’t think one person that was here in this stadium is not going to want to be back for the next game,” Lo’eau LaBonta, the Current’s captain, said. “They are going to tell more people. Everybody’s going to want to come now because that was a show.”

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The match marked the start of a new era for individuals, including the return of former U.S. women’s national team head coach Vlatko Andonovski to the NWSL and his adopted home, as well as the team and the league.

CPKC Stadium cost over $120 million and was mostly privately funded. The Kansas City Current’s owners also built an $18 million training center that opened in 2022 and will be expanded further in the near future. A sellout crowd of 11,500 fans to open the stadium on Saturday punctuated the team’s unprecedented spending on facilities for a women’s soccer team.

“It’s so much more than I expected,” NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman told ESPN at halftime. “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.

“They have changed the footprint of this city forever, and I think it will have an even greater impact than anyone can imagine.”

Kansas City midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo opened the scoring 22 minutes into the match, igniting the crowd and drawing fist pumps from Current co-owners Angie and Chris Long, and jumping celebrations from Brittany Mahomes and Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, also co-owners of the Current.

The Current latched onto the momentum in the building to score two more times in the following 12 minutes. Kansas City built a 5-1 lead by the 68th minute, when 16-year-old Alex Pfeiffer became the youngest goal scorer in NWSL regular-season history.

What looked like an insurance goal from Pfeiffer ended up being the game winner as the Thorns stormed back to make the game interesting behind braces from forwards Sophia Smith and Janine Beckie.

Andonovski made his name in the NWSL for his teams’ sound defensive structures. He said he was “terrified” to concede four goals on Saturday, but he was happy with his team’s ability to grind out an ugly game and pick up three points on a historic day.

“If we can describe this team, it has to be like we’re describing Kansas City,” Andonovski said. “It has to be hardworking, resilient, with flair, grit, literally in people’s faces. We showed it today. We were not good in moments there. We didn’t win because we were so good or so much better than Portland; we won because we were Kansas City.”

The stadium is uniquely Kansas City, too, from its location on the southern bank of the Missouri River, to the team’s unique teal color that runs throughout the facility in everything from the seating to the bathroom hand soap.

Saturday was a long time coming for players and coaches who were around for the NWSL’s frugal early years. DiBernardo is a 10-year veteran of the league who started her professional career playing at a 3,000-seat college football stadium in the Chicago suburbs.

“[From] where we started with this league and where we are now it just shows the growth and how much the players have put in and really pushed the standard and how much we’ve had to really fight for ourselves,” DiBernardo said. “And it’s just the start. We have grown in our voice and [we’re] just pushing the limit, and I think today was just a special first experience and it’s a day that we won’t forget.”

Andonovski was the first coach of the city’s original NWSL team, FC Kansas City, which launched in the league’s inaugural season in 2013 and folded in late 2017. That team played in a high school football stadium outside of the city.

He returned to the league and Kansas City after last year’s World Cup disappointment as head coach of the United States because he was sold on the vision of the Longs to make the Current the best team in the world.

“This is something that will change the world of women’s soccer,” Andonovski said. “This is the beginning of change.”

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