Head Coach: Rory Dames is back for year 8 in his favorite Chicago Red Stars hoodie.
What did the Red Stars’ 2019 look like? Last year the Red Stars finally beat their playoff curse and earned their first NWSL Championship berth. They finished the regular season in 2nd place with a record of 14-2-8 (W-D-L) earning them the honor of hosting their semifinal game against the Portland Thorns. The Red Stars had only beaten the Thorns once in the 7 years the teams had faced off against each other before they defeated Portland last October and advanced to the final. The Red Stars lost in the final to the North Carolina Courage.
National Team Players: Chicago is home to Morgan Brian, Tierna Davidson, Julie Ertz, Alyssa Naeher, and Casey Short who all play on the USWNT. Also on the roster is Mexican International Katie Johnson and 2011 World Cup winner/former Japanese National Team member Yuki Nagasato who was an offensive powerhouse for the Red Stars in 2019.
Players You Should Know: Sarah Gorden and Casey Short are two players that you are going to want to keep an eye on this tournament. Casey Short is one of the best 1-v-1 defenders out there and also not afraid to get in on then offensive action. Last season we saw Sarah Gorden go from a sub to a consistent starter on the backline for Chicago. Gorden’s improvement in decision making and technical ability along with her speed played a big role in Chicago’s success towards the end of the season. She may play on the wing or we may see her at centerback but either way Gorden and Short are going to play crucial roles in Chicago’s Challenge Cup.
Changes in the Off-Season:
Trades: Katie Naughton was traded to the Houston Dash for Kealia Watt, Rachel Hill was traded from Orlando Pride, Makenzy Doniak was traded from Utah Royals
Julia Bingham→ defender USC selected 15th overall
Camryn Bigalski→ defender University of Wisconsin selected 16th
Aerial Chavarin→ defender Yale University selected 35th
Zoe Morse→ midfielder University of Virginia selected 19th
Ella Stevens→ midfielder Duke University selected 24th
Cassie Miller:Goalkeeper, Apollon Ladies FC (Cyprus)
Sarah Luebbert: Forward, University of Missouri
Zoe Morse:Defender, University of Virginia
Departures and injuries: Alyssa Mautz is out with an ACL injury, Brooke Elby retired, Nikki Stanton signed with Klepp (Norway), Sam Kerr signed with Chelsea
Strengths: Chicago has one of the strongest midfields in the NWSL. Don’t believe me? There’s 5 World Cups between just 3 of them. The magician Yuki Nagasato made it happen for the Red Stars last season when she scored 8 goals and led the league in assists with 8. Along with Yuki, Vanessa DiBernardo is back with the Red Stars and so is Morgan Brian who is reportedly fully healthy for the first time in what feels like forever. Although she is officially on the roster as a defender Julie Ertz also plays defensive mid quite a bit for the Red Stars and is absolutely dominant. When it comes to controlling the middle of the park there are few better teams than Chicago and that will surely be a strength for them heading into the Challenge Cup.
Biggest Question Mark: The biggest question for the Red Stars this season has to be where the goals are going to come from. Unfortunately we cannot talk about the Chicago Red Stars without acknowledging the departure of Sam Kerr. With the 2019 MVP and Golden Boot winner choosing to sign with Chelsea in the offseason, a starting striker position has opened up on the Red Stars. Rory Dames has brought in Doniak, Hill and Watt to compete for the spot(s) alongside the club’s returning forwards to produce some goals. According to interviews this has created a highly competitive environment when it comes to training and pushing each other so don’t be surprised if it starts raining goals for the Red Stars at some point. That being said those goals may not come quite as early as the Challenge Cup. It seems like at least the first portion of the tournament we will likely see a lot of rotation both in the front line and while the Red Stars always show up to win this tournament may be more focused on development than anything else.
Preliminary Round Matchups
How fair was Chicago’s draw?
Chicago’s initial draw for the Challenge Cup was probably the best in the NWSL. However, their new schedule has increased in difficulty. Overall each team in the NWSL poses a different threat and no game is a sure thing. Chicago will not have it easy in the preliminary rounds but then again nobody really will.
Preview of Preliminary Round Match-ups
Washington Spirit June 27th: The Spirit’s roster is one of the few in the NWSL that does not look too different from 2019 to 2020. Last year Chicago lost 1 and won 2 against the Spirit. This will be our first look at a possible starting XI for the Red Stars so it will be interesting to see what Dames rolls out on gameday.
Portland Thorns July 1st: Everyone seems to be rivals with the Thorns. This matchup is a rematch of the 2019 semi final in which Chicago ended Portland’s season. The Red Stars and Thorns both look quite different from when they last played each other but the emotion of the match is still sure to be there.
North Carolina Courage July 5th: Facing the reigning champions is never an easy task, nevermind that their championship roster is largely still intact. The good news is that Chicago is the only team that really gave North Carolina trouble last season. Up until the final the Red Stars were the only team to not lose to the Courage. This is sure to be another emotionally charged match seeing as how unhappy Chicago was with their performance in the final.
Utah Royals July 12th:The Royals managed to take only 3 points from the Red Stars last season and this matchup is sure to be interesting considering the two sides have swapped a fair amount of personnel throughout the offseason. With the arrival of Harrington from Chicago, Utah’s staff saw the departure of assistant coach Scott Parkinson who took Harrington’s old position with the Red Stars. In addition to exchanging coaches, Makenzy Doniak was traded from Utah to Chicago before the draft, this will be her first match against her former club.
If the Red Stars can rotate through and find a solid starting lineup by the end of the preliminary rounds then they should not be counted out for making an appearance in the final. With a strong midfield and experienced core group of players plus the kind of support Chicago has from its fans, it’s almost a guarantee that the Red Stars will put on a heck of a show and give their opponents plenty of trouble. Plus as everyone should know by now, you never bet against Julie Ertz.
By Katie Clark
Photo Credit: Nikki Flores @ Footy Day Photos