Record: 8-3-9, 33 points
Finish: Second in regular season play; lost in semifinal to FC Kansas City
It seems that every season the Chicago Red Stars have found a way to improve and move up in the final standings. Last season was no exception as the Red Stars finished in second place and made the playoffs for the first time in team history. A lot of the success came from the fabulous rookies the Red Stars picked up in the 2015 NWSL Draft. Sofia Huerta took the league by storm, starting off her rookie campaign hot, and fellow rookies Danielle Colaprico and Arin Gilliland were models of consistency throughout the season. Colaprico started all 20 games and Gilliland featured in 19. Even with all the new faces, the returning players were just as great for Chicago. Christen Press was… well, she was Christen Press, and Vanessa DiBernardo continued her severely underrated work in the Red Stars midfield. However, not everything was sunshine and roses for the Red Stars, as they seemingly didn’t show up for their semifinal match against eventual champion FC Kansas City. The Red Stars looked rather unimpressive in their 3-0 loss to the Blues, and crashed out of their first playoff appearance with a thud.
Losses and Additions
Somewhat unfortunately for the Red Stars, many of their longtime stars said goodbye to both Chicago and the game of soccer by retiring. Lori Chalupny, Shannon Boxx, Karina LeBlanc, Michelle Lomnicki, and Taryn Hemmings all hung up their cleats for good. Chicago also bid adieu to several players of their own accord, including Rachel Quon and Zaikya Bywaters, and shook things up with some offseason trades. In the end, Abby Erceg and Adriana Leon were sent to Western New York for Whitney Engen, who was then in turn traded to Boston for Alyssa Naeher.
That brings us to our additions for 2016. Naeher is the biggest addition, but Chicago also added Amanda Da Costa from Washington and a serious amount of draft picks: Katie Naughton, Sarah Gorden, Courtney Raetzman, Jannelle Flaws, and Adrienne Jordan.
Let’s start with the last line of defense and work our way forward. As previously mentioned, perhaps the biggest offseason move by the Red Stars was picking up the tiredest(?) keeper in the entire league, Alyssa Naeher. By all expectations Naeher should be the starter, and when she’s presumably gone for the Olympics, the Red Stars have a more than capable backup in Michelle Dalton. Dalton had a pleasantly surprising and solid run as the starter last season.
Moving to the backline, Julie Johnston will be at the helm for as long as she’s in Chicago, and I think you can count on Arin Gilliland to start as well. With Hemmings, Lomnicki, Erceg, and Quon gone, significant playing time is left on the table across the backline. Second-round draft pick Katie Naughton should be in the running for a possible starting spot.
In the midfield, write Vanessa DiBernardo’s name in pen, as she started 19 of 20 games last season. Colaprico should be right there with her, and rookie Courtney Raetzman could be an interesting option off the bench. The addition of Amanda Da Costa adds a bit more depth to the midfield.
Up top it’s almost an embarrassment of riches for the Red Stars. Press almost averaged a goal a game last season, and we’ve certainly talked about Huerta quite a bit. And underrated Jen Hoy rounds out the scoring threat.
Off the Field
If you haven’t heard that the Red Stars will be “kicking grass” this season then you must be living under a rock. The official home field of the Chicago Red Stars for 2015 will be Toyota Park, the home of an actual grass field and the Chicago Fire. Toyota Park replaces Benedictine University, which had served as the Red Stars’ home field since the inaugural NWSL season in 2013. This isn’t an entirely shocking change for the club, as they played three games at Toyota Park last season, including two regular-season games and their playoff game against FC Kansas City.
The It Factor
The sophomore slump. Can the fabulous rookies from last season continue their growth with a solid second season campaign? There are potential red flags for the Red Stars. Yes, Sofia Huerta had the most fabulous month of May out of any NWSL player, but she showed some real signs of slowing down as the season wore on. Yes, Danielle Colaprico played so well last year she grabbed herself a well deserved U.S. Women’s National Team call-up, but there’s always a possibility her recent injuries could be a cause for concern. Add in the assured loss of Julie Johnston and Christen Press for the Olympics, and suddenly several youngsters could be thrust into the fire for the Red Stars. There’s no doubt the Red Stars have a great young core, but can they be consistent game in and game out, and sustain it come playoff time?