“If at the draft  I would’ve walked over to the table at Houston and said ‘hey Randy [Waldrum] listen, I’ll give you the 2nd round pick, I want the rights to Morgan Brian’- and he would’ve said - ‘done, let’s do that’ - people would have lost their s**t at the draft. They would’ve been like, what?!”
It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
NWSL Draft Day is quickly approaching this week. It’s a day that Chicago Red Stars fans look forward to every year, thanks to head coach Rory Dames’ ability to navigate his way through a draft. Dames recently took the time to speak with us about the upcoming 2018 draft, the team’s growth since, and even gives more insight to the Morgan Brian trade and why he considers the midseason trade as part of his 2017 draft.
Always on beat
The Red Stars are entering the 2018 draft with a different perspective than they did in 2013 or 2014. They are a team with an established core in place, particularly centered by Julie Ertz and Vanessa DiBernardo, and have come along way from the early years of quiet try-hards to playoff contenders.
Whether it’s been growing his team through the draft or utilizing it as a potential asset for the future, the organization and team has come a long way from it’s inaugural draft. Since the inaugural draft in 2013, the athletes that have come into the organization have made a name for themselves throughout the league and even among national team stages with Dames saying, “when you go through our drafting in Vanessa and Julie - then don’t forget we drafted Quon that 1st year (2013) who ended up going through to the full Canadian team - and you have Sof [Huerta], Dany [Colaprico], and Gilly [Gilliland] in there.”
The growth of individual talent among the team isn’t lost on Coach Dames, who says, “Julie [Ertz] has been a full member of the national team for 3 years now, she wasn’t on the national team when we drafted her. Dany went into multiple camps. Gilly went into camp. Sof’s currently in camps - I’m not sure why DiBernardo doesn’t go into camps - So it’s one thing to draft players that are good but it’s another to draft players who can evolve and go to that level.”
The long time coach ended his perspective of his players growth by saying, “It’s hard to say that those weren’t good draft picks. And it’s hard to say that both to club, from our responsibility to develop those players, and those players from their own responsibility to want to develop . . . I think those have all been win-wins.”
Inbetween the rounds
Despite the team’s successes in past drafts, sometimes even the best laid out plans have to be adjusted on the fly. In last year’s draft, Chicago came away with 3 draft rookies - Michele Vasconcelos, Morgan Proffitt and Lauren Kaskie - and more picks for 2018 in what many had speculated to be an expansion year.
By seasons end it was Kaskie, the penultimate 4th round pick, who would see the most time on the pitch as a rookie with 213 minutes over 7 matches. Vasoncelos, the WCC player of the year from BYU, would miss the 2017 season as she and her husband were expecting their 1st child. Proffitt saw 111 minutes over 7 matches, was eventually waived in a trade for Kristie Mewis, and was later picked up by Mewis’ former team, Washington Spirit.
He elaborated on the midseason trade with Kristie Mewis and Morgan Brian in regards to the 2017 draft, saying, “I took a second round pick, and got a first round [Seattle’s] pick. I took the 1st round pick, sent it to Washington, I got Kristie Mewis - who was number 3 pick in the inaugural draft . . . We liked Kristie. The goal Kristie scored on Washington could’ve been the goal that saved our season to get into the playoffs - in fairness to Kristie. It was a huge goal to get us out of the rut we were in.”
While professional sports is just that, a profession, business as usual isn’t always easy. Dames noted that the conversation with Mewis was difficult, saying “I didn’t feel good about the conversation that I had to have with Kristie. I was excited to have Kristie. Kristie is a great kid and good player. The fact that she was left footed was a big thing for me. The fact that she was a bigger physical presence in the midfield with Dany and Vanessa was a big thing for me. And the fact that she was a goal scoring midfielder was a big thing for me. But, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have somebody who started in the semi-final and final of the World Cup and won; be a part of our team if it was something we could do.”
While this off season for Chicago has been quiet, the transparency from their midseason trade for Morgan Brian became even clearer as the new year rang in. Brian was officially announced by Olympique Lyonnais - as rumored when she was traded to the Red Stars - on a 2 year deal. Leaving Chicago with the midfielders rights.
While there was ‘Future Considerations’ in the initial trade, Dames clarifies that by saying, “There were some contingencies in the trade based off if Morgan stayed and played this year. Morgan didn’t stay and play this year. So at that point, it’s done. The trade is over. There’s no more contingencies left. As soon as she made the decision to go to Lyon, the trade was done. We retain her rights in the league.”
In the end, its viewed as a long play for the organization by Dames, who says, “I think people forget how young Morgan is, but Morgan is young. So if and when she decides to come back, which at some point she will,” he jokes as he continues, saying “I may not be the coach here anymore - but at some point she will [return] and Chicago has the rights to one of, let’s just say, to a very good midfielder.”
Dames points out the 2017 draft as a success for the club over all, saying “I think last year was our best draft. We got a 1st round pick for a 2nd round pick, we moved around in different spots, and we picked up all kinds of assets last year because that’s what the draft needed to be for us.” He emphasizes the point by saying, “I count Morgan Brian as part of my draft last year. Because I traded a 2nd round pick at the draft and turned that into Morgan Brian’s rights when it was all said and done, so I consider that a win. So if I could do something similar this year and I end up getting the rights to a legitimate full international? I’d do that again in heartbeat.”
New Year, New Draft
While the off season has seen some head coaching positions change, Rory is focused on the upcoming season and Draft.
Although, he did make time to watch The Last Jedi. “I liked it. Everybody left ‘Empire Strikes Back’ a long long time ago thinking, ‘Man, that movie was terrible! or ‘Oh I hated it!’ And everyone looks back now as ‘oh my God, that was the best’ . . . I think 10 years from now . . . people are going to look back and think that was fantastic.”
However, he does admit his endless love for Star Wars makes it hard to be negative towards the franchise, saying “I’m a bad guy to ask, because I’m a die hard Star Wars fan, it would have to be something extreme for me to not like it.”
Never a bad day when my favorite droid turns up at Toyota Park!! pic.twitter.com/akcvxFd2ks— Rory Dames (@dames_rory) August 14, 2017
Dames has had his own Jedi moments with debates on the movie he says, “I have had plenty of in-depth conversations and strong worded debates with people who may not have [enjoyed Last Jedi] and I don’t think I’ve lost any of them yet.” He continues to joke, and says, “I think everyone is coming around to my side. Regardless if I’m the light side or the dark side of the force - you make your own decision. But everybody’s come around to my side of the force by the time the conversation’s been done.”
Conversing is only part of the process for Coach Dames. Entering the 2018 draft, Dames isn’t looking to grow his roster, but rather try to build on it. “The draft the first 3 years we had to get it right, right? Because we were building the team around it. We were building the style of play that we wanted to have, the culture of the kind of players we wanted here - both as soccer players and as people.”
Dames elaborated saying, “We’re not a team this year coming into the draft that we have to get the draft right - that we have to build out of the draft. You always like to get new pieces that can help you.”
And that’s exactly how Coach Dames is looking to utilize this years draft, saying “I don’t know if it’s a specific area [position] thing. I think we’re pretty good across the board. I think it’s more about adding some depth and versatility.” With the seventh pick in the first round this year, Dames mentions that he is looking for versatility, saying “I like players that can play multiple positions. So trying to get somebody who can go into 2 or 3 different spots I think will be important for us, their mentality and who they are as a person will be important to us.”
The transition from college to pro can sometimes be a difficult one and Dames takes that into consideration as he plans his draft, saying “No matter who you’re drafting, these kids are all used to being THE player in their team or program. So making sure that somebody’s going to come in and they’re not that person - How will they handle that? Will they continue to push to get into wanting to be that person? How will they influence the group? . . . those things will come into play for us.”
With the Draft a few days away, Dames game plan is short and to the point, he says “There are a few players who I think at 7 [selection] that I would really like to have and if they’re there we will take them, and if not, we will probably look to move out of that pick and move out the first round.”
It takes a village
The NWSL has been touted as one of the most competitive leagues in the world, while continuing to try and grow to be the world’s best. With overseas signings becoming a more regular occurrence among both national team stars and non-allocated players, Chicago remains an organization that can attract players who are looking to hone their talents.
He goes outside of drafted players as examples and says “I think that we have created a culture here where you have to grow as a player and you have to get better in order to survive . . . Casey Short wasn’t a left back on the National Team when we brought her back from Norway. People questioned from the draft 2 years ago and the comments we got for picking Katie Naughton . . . Katie Naughton is one of the better center backs in the league. Sammy Johnson came here as a forward to go through open tryouts. I mean you can go through the players on our team and look at what they were when they came and where they are now and make your own decisions on if we can develop and hone world class players here.”
Dames believes that a coach’s role, while significant, shouldn’t define any specific player, saying “This is my own personal belief - I don’t believe a coach makes a player. Obviously there’s few examples where coaches take credit for players and vice versa and that’s all find dandy, they can have that relationship. But coaches don’t create players, coaches create the atmosphere, the culture, the training environment for players to be in.”
Whether it’s incoming draftees or other big names, Coach Dames elaborated on the culture that the Front Office, Coaches, and players have established in the windy city saying “Players make players. Coaches create the culture and environment for players. I think we have a very good environment and we have a fantastic culture for players who want to come in, compete, hate to lose, want to get better, want to leave it on the field everyday, respect each other when they’re off the field, and try to accomplish a common goal - I think we have the best culture in the league for that.”
Despite the five NWSL drafts under his belt, Dames remains humble by his players growth saying, “I don’t say [All] that because I think Im super coach, I say that because if you go through our roster and and you look at our players and look at who they were when they got here, as opposed to who they are now, there’s growth in all of them.”