Kelly, whose sister Katie played for FC Kansas City in 2013, was drafted by the Blues out of Marquette with the second-to-last pick in the 2014 NWSL College Draft, but didn’t play her first minutes with the team until 2017.
NWSL Media caught up with her to talk about her journey to the NWSL and the season so far for FC Kansas City.
Q: You were drafted in the 2014 draft by FC Kansas City with the 35th pick. How did you go from being drafted in 2014 to playing for them for the first time in 2017?
Being drafted in the final round was the coolest thing, I thought at the time. Being able to be drafted to my home team, being able to play for people that knew me. That I had family that could come watch me play was awesome. Got to midway through the season, and I wasn’t really getting those minutes. I had talked to my sister, and she had played overseas before, and we talked about how important it was to be getting minutes as a professional. I talked to [FC Kansas City coach Vlatko Andonovski] as well during that time, and I said, “Would this be a good idea for me? Would it not?”
He said it could go both ways. You could come here, you’re practicing with the best players but you’re not getting the minutes. But if you go overseas, you’re not technically with the best players all the time, but you’ll be getting tons of minutes.
It was just a hard decision to make at the time, and I made the decision because I wanted to play in Champions League. The Icelandic team that I was going to play with was going to be in the Champions League. I thought it was one of the coolest things you could do, after watching the EPL. So I went that route.
So I went and played in Iceland, then in Finland with my sister, and then I played in Cyprus after that. And I went and played in Champions League in Cyprus as well. Cyprus was actually the first time I got to experience it, because when I was in Iceland I ended up tearing my meniscus right at the beginning and I wouldn’t have been able to recover in time to be fit enough to play. Last year was the first time I played legit Champions League.
I ended up playing with some of the girls that had been in the NWSL before, that came over and played with the Apollon team. That made me want to go back and play with the best players, and I knew that I had gotten enough experience and 90 minute games to be able to come back. So that brought me back to Kansas City in February, end of January or February.
Vlatko’s roster was already full. I had my agent talk to almost every other team and they had all their rosters full for preseason. I called Vlatko personally and just asked him if it was even possible if I could get into camp. He said there would be a spot, but he couldn’t promise me anything. “I know you, you work hard. Show me what you have,” basically.
So that’s what I did. I went into camp, two weeks into preseason for them, and had to just work my way. I felt like a rookie again, coming back in. So I just worked hard until he could give out the last contracts. There were like two, three contracts left. He told me I got one and at that moment, I didn’t even know if I was going to get it or not. I just told myself I was going to stick around Kansas City and prove to Vlatko that I could work my way onto this team and become a starter or a player that he could count on. And that’s what I did, and we’re here now.
The season in Kansas City can’t be what anyone was envisioning back in April, but the last few results have been a huge shift in momentum. How has it been mentally this season and then over the past few weeks?
We just have been working so hard throughout the whole season, and losing by one goal in the 90th minute or things like that. Like anybody, it’s hard to go through those situations, day in and day out, every week. I think that it shows that we have a ton of heart, and the work that we’re putting in doesn’t go unnoticed now because we have been able to win.
When you lose, nobody really looks at the hard work that you’ve done. You lost, you know what I mean? I think it shows a lot of our character, to just be able to go through so many weeks of a tie or a loss, a tie or a loss, to be able to come back and have that first win. Especially with these past three wins being back-to-back-to-back, it’s just been crazy to think we’re going to play so we can show people we’re not this bottom team. And to now be able to see that the numbers are changing and we do have a good chance, with the numbers on the table, we do have a chance of making the playoffs.
It’s nice to know that you can’t always overlook the last team on the table, because that team could come back up.
The result against Chicago seemed like it was the biggest one yet. Was there something special to it?
We have a lot of different players who can score goals for us. We don’t have to count on just one player to score goals for us. That’s very comforting to know that we can score with anyone. Being able to win by two, it just gives us that confidence. Knowing that Chicago is a top team, they were heading to the playoffs, that means we can beat them so that means we can beat the other teams as well.
It’s a very good feeling and it gives you a positivity to see what the next game is like. It gives you that energy you need, like, “we got this for the next game too.”
One last question. Is there a moment, on or off the field this season, that sums up your experience in Kansas City so far?
Actually, just yesterday, we had a team surprise party for Brittany Taylor. She’s engaged and she’s having her wedding in like eighteen days. So last night, we all got together and we were just able to celebrate with her. After winning the last three games as well, it’s just nice for everybody to get together. We went to Vlatko’s house, we were able to celebrate with her and celebrate with each other.
I think that’s a moment right now. Just being able to get together and enjoying each other’s presence and not have to think about, we lost again or we tied. It was all about being together and celebrating as a family.