With the 2017 National Women's Soccer League season fast approaching, teams are starting to put in the hard yards at preseason training. One team with a lot to prove are the Chicago Red Stars; after three promising but ultimately fruitless seasons, this year marks the opportunity for a watershed moment for this current squad.
Continuity is key
After being short-changed in the inaugural season allocations, Rory Dames finally has the squad he wants. He has spent the last three seasons slowly picking up pieces - mostly from the drafts - to help him create one of the strongest rosters in the league.
National team stars Julie Johnston and Christen Press are returning for their fourth years, whilst Alyssa Naeher is back between the sticks after her move ahead of the 2016 season. The strength in depth continues with some more draft products, in Danielle Colaprico, Vanessa DiBernardo, Arin Gilliland and Sofia Huerta - all of whom have become regular starters.
Most of the names that Chicago fans have grown to love will stay in the Windy City this season; the sole departure is that of Amanda DaCosta, whose first and solitary season with the Red Stars was blighted by injuries.
Former United States U-23 Women’s National Team prospect Summer Green is the only new acquisition not picked up at the draft; she was originally drafted by the Seattle Reign last year but failed to make an impact due to an ACL tear picked up back in 2015. Her involvement this season is still up in the air though, as she’ll have to earn her spot during preseason.
Drafting exploits continue
During the 2017 NWSL Draft, Dames picked up three new players - Lauren Kaskie from UCLA, Morgan Proffitt of Marquette, and Michele Vasconcelos out of BYU. Vasconcelos has already delayed her start with the team after recently announcing her pregnancy, but the other two are more than ready to step into the fold.
Proffitt has spent the last two years with the Red Stars Reserves, and has been in and out of the U23 USWNT during that period. Adding height and strength in the middle of the park, she is definitely one to keep an eye on during the upcoming season.
A record eight Chicago players headed out to Australia’s Westfield W-League this offseason to gain some international experience. All of them held down starting spots for their respective teams, and are likely to come back to the Red Stars knowing what it takes to be a leader. Most notably, DiBernardo and Alyssa Mautz carried Perth Glory all the way to the Grand Final, and they will look to repeat this achievement in the NWSL.
My Kind of Town
Although there have been few changes on the field, there have been plenty off it, as the club went through a rebrand which involved a new logo and tagline - “My Kind of Town”. This season the club want to get back to their Chicago roots and play for the city - something that should be easy with six Illinois natives in the squad.
It’s currently unclear if this new-look Red Stars club will have a closer relationship with the MLS’ Chicago Fire, with whom they stadium share, but either way this will hopefully draw greater attendances as local fans cheer their team and their city on to their first NWSL Championship.
After last season’s opening day loss against the Houston Dash, Dames has made sure to face the top teams in preseason; the Red Stars will face the Dash, the Portland Thorns, and the U23 USWNT during the Portland Thorns Spring Invitational, kicking off March 26. This tournament is sandwiched by matches against University of Wisconsin-Madison and Notre Dame, the first of which is on March 16, just three days after the team officially meet up for preseason training.
In a repeat of last year’s opener, the Red Stars will travel to Houston to kick-start the season. The first match at Toyota Park will be on April 22, as midwest rivals FC Kansas City come to town.