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For love & glory (if not, sadly, money): Red Stars 2015 roster preview

Keith Helt, proprietor of Red the House Down, joins Hot Time for first-rate NWSL coverage; up today, the roster, which runs the gamut from superstars to unpaid interns and almost everything in between

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

(Hello. My name's Keith. Sean kindly invited me to write about the Chicago Red Stars here on Hot Time In Old Town, which is awesome. A little about me, just so you know where I'm coming from. My soccer teams are Fire, Red Stars and Swansea. I'm a nerd for music, comics, fiction, history, the Chicago Teacher's Union, feminism, etc. I've been writing about the Red Stars for a little while now over at Red the House Down. I am also probably more heart than knowledge/talent when it comes to talking about soccer. So I'd like you all to chime in and talk with me if you agree, disagree or have a completely different idea altogether. You can also tell me if I'm full of shit, but do so nicely please, I'm a sensitive soul.

Anyways, let's get up to speed, shall we? In this first piece I'm going to introduce you to the Chicago Red Stars players.)

We begin with the fact that three players retired - Jackie Santacaterina, Kecia Morway and Taylor Vancil. All were important parts of this team for various reasons - Santacaterina was a massive presence in our midfield, fabulous for defending and shutting down the opposing offense; Morway was crucial wingback depth and coming into this world cup year, Vancil was going to be our starting goal keeper for a significant chunk of the season.

While we don't know all the personal reasons that went into making their decisions, we can safely assume that the harsh realities of professional women's sports played a huge factor. To put it bluntly, professional women's sports pay shit. Unsustainably and insultingly shit. It's hard for anyone to pay the rent, bills, cost of living on those wages alone. I could go on and on about this - armchair labor activism is something I hold dear.

Going into the offseason, minus the retirees, our roster looked like this:

2 Jen Hoy FWD
4 Alyssa Mautz M/F
5 Zakiya Bywaters MID
10 Vanessa DiBernardo MID
11 Rachel Quon DEF
13 Michelle Lomnicki DEF
14 Taryn Hemmings DEF
16 Samantha Johnson D/F
21 Hayley Brock FWD

1 Karina LeBlanc GK
6 Abby Erceg DEF
7 Shannon Boxx MID
8 Julie Johnston DEF
9 Melissa Tancredi FWD
17 Lori Chalupny MID
19 Adriana Leon FWD
23 Christen Press FWD

That second group consists of the players that have been called into national team camps over the past few weeks. Most will for sure be at the World Cup. I would say Boxx and Chalupny are on the bubble and we'll see if they make the final US roster.

So let's get to know the players in a few overly general sentences.

Shannon Boxx is a midfielder. You've probably heard of her cuz she's been on the national team forever. She hasn't played much for the Red Stars so I don't factor her in as a crucial piece of the team, but she is all about community relations and being an ambassador for the club and all that, so she's definitely part of the team. She's good people.

Zakyia Bywaters was the overall number one draft pick in the inaugural season of the NWSL which has kind of been an albatross for her and the team since day one. She generally plays as a winger on the left, has footwork skills, is creative and capable of scoring. However, she is still waiting for her breakout year and it looks like she will have to keep waiting as she had an injury to her hip that required surgery and a recovery time that's longer than the 2015 season. Aggravation. She is on our roster, but won't count against our 20-player limit.

Lori Chalupny is our captain. She is amazing. That is all. Not really. She's way creative, the engine of the midfield, good on both sides of the ball, a leader, sometimes a leading goal scorer, very dangerous and intelligent. She's from St. Louis. Her nickname is Chups ( pronounced choops). And she recently found her way back into the national team picture after years of not being talked to because of concussion issues. You can read about the drama and controversy of it all with a quick google. For her sake I hope she makes the final national roster, but for our sake, I hope she doesn't.

We are all hoping Vanessa Dibernardo will blossom into a full on playmaking midfielder. She's not quite there yet, but she is very good. Last year was her first year at the professional level. Before that however, she was hot shit at University of Illinois and has been on the U-17, U-20 and U23 USWNT's. She was on the team that won the U-20 world cup. Also, she's from Naperville.

Abby Erceg is one of our starting center backs. She is from New Zealand (ask her about Lord of the Rings, Flight of the Conchords and the Dead C) and captains their national team, so she also won't be here for a chunk of the season. But she was the first player to officially re-sign with the Red Stars shortly after the 2014 season ended. She is the one to stay at home and lock down the backline while Julie Johnston makes her way forward.

Once upon a time Taryn Hemmings was a center back. True story. She also used to make those offensive forays deep into opposition territory. She loved it. Then she tore her acl and was out for a long, long time. But, then she came back last season and seamlessly slotted in at right back, like nothing happened. Fabulous. If you must know one thing, know this: Hemmings is crucial.

Jen Hoy is incredibly fast and killed it at the beginning of last year, putting away goals left and right. But then she got tired out in the middle of the grueling, condensed season and never really got back in form. She and Press need to figure out how to play together and they have struggled to do so. It probably won't happen this year either, but we can hope.

Samantha Johnson walked in to the open tryouts last year and walked out a starting center back. Pretty cool. She was supremely solid last year, very cool and composed. Then Vicky Losada of the Western New York Flash busted her face open with a cleat and pretty much ended her season. I will be very happy to see her back this year.

Julie Johnston is ridiculous. We drafted her last year, and although she historically played d-mid, we slotted her into the backline and she took over. Both she and Abby Erceg (and Samantha Johnson) bossed it, although Johnston seems to be the de facto leader of defense. She also loves to make runs forward and score. Very comfortable with the ball at her feet. She will also be kicking it at the world cup. Sadness.

Karina LeBlanc is huge in goal. Excellent even. Everyone loves her. If you don't, I pity you. Since the departure of our dearly beloved Ella Masar (who is now in Houston), LeBlanc has become our media ambassador cuz she is hammy and loves to be on camera and has her own web show during the season. You will see a lot of her.

Adriana Leon is a Canadian national who has insane footwork. Insane. Ridiculous. She generally plays as a winger on the right and loves to take on defenders, break down the defense and find a through pass to an eventual goal scorer. She can also score on her own, but she seems to prefer to make the pass. She's been a starter for the Canadian national team and will be gone during the world cup. Sadness. Also, her nickname is Dri.

Michele Lomnicki is a Red Stars institution at this point. She plays all over the backline as needed and is decent in all the spots although she generally plays at right back. She was married this offseason and this is the name she is now going by. Before this she went by Michele Wenino, so don't be confused when you see or hear that.

Alyssa Mautz is a quintessential Red Star. Attacking, hustling, hardworking, not afraid of a challenge, and, um, gritty. She is used generally as a sub on the right midfield or as a forward. She also starts in case of injury.

Christen Press is a massively talented, pacey, creative striker who is capable of making amazingness out of nothing. If you haven't been paying attention, she is also currently a starter for the USWNT, which is good for her, but bad for us. She used to play with Tyreso in Sweden and made a good run in the UEFA Champions League with them. Cynically, I'm not sure how much she wants to be in Chicago. But that could just be me.

Rachel Quon is our starting leftback. She's solid, puts in a good shift, not spectacular, but good to have. She's been on the bubble of the Canadian national team, but hasn't been in their camp for the past few months. She will most likely be here for the whole season.

Melissa Tancredi is our starting athletic, aggressive target forward type. She's good. She plays for the Canadian national team and will also be gone for a lot of the season. People hate her for stomping on Carli Lloyd's head in a match 100 years ago. But I don't like Carli Lloyd for punching Vanessa Dibernardo, so it works out.


We picked up a few more players in the college draft. Unlike MLS, the college draft is a massively important part of roster building in the NWSL. Outside of any ridiculous trades and fancy international players getting picked up, it's the highlight of the offseason for nerds like me.

The players we drafted are Arin Gilliland, Danielle Colaprico, Sofia Huerta, Cara Walls and Rachel Tejada. We also drafted Nicole Setterlund, but she retired before even coming into camp citing ongoing concussion issues.

It was recently announced that we officially signed Gilliland, Colaprico and Huerta. Which isn't surprising. Arin Gilliland is a highly rated true leftback who provides a lot going forward; Danielle Colaprico is a creative midfielder who Rory Dames is looking to play on the left; Sofia Huerta seems to be a solid forward who likes to play out wide and should complement our current strikers. Cara Walls is a forward and Rachel Tejada is an attacking midfielder, both would most likely be depth. One of them might still be signed and the other will probably feature on our reserves.

For a slightly, and I mean slightly, more in depth overview of the draftees you can look here.

Open tryouts

To help cover the huge gaps that will be created in our roster by the world cup we invited ten players from an open tryout: Jayden Barrett, Michele Dalton, Jackie Esterkamp, Monica Gonyo, Valerie Gonyo, Natalie Horner, Leigh Jakes, Kelley McCloskey, Giuleana Lopez and Lillie Toaspern.

The only thing I'm fairly certain of is that Michele Dalton will most likely be our number two goalkeeper. Look for her to be officially signed soon. I have no real idea if any of the other players will make it. I would think maybe one of the others makes it and now that Bywaters will be missing. And my guess is that we will probably see Lillie Toaspern get picked up since she is another offensive minded midfielder. For a quick rundown of the tryoutees you can look here.

The deal with the roster is that we can have 20 contracted professional players, but we can have ten unpaid amateurs on the reserve team that we field in the WPSL.

Stop for a minute. Read that last sentence again. Unpaid. UNPAID. Let that sink in. Okay, now finish reading.

These select ten volunteers will be able to be called up to replace injured or missing (in World Cup) players. So look for a bunch of these draftees and open tryout types to be on the roster for the reserve team. We will be calling them up. Unpaid internship? That's resume building.