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The Chicago Red Stars 2018 Season Preview

Chicago’s got a new squad and a fresh approach— and they’re coming for the throne

Photo via Chicago Red Stars

It’s been a long offseason for WoSo faithful, and in just a few days the NWSL will return for it’s sixth season. With the release of first team rosters, and the launch of the Red Stars’ campaign commemorating their 10th anniversary as an organization, the excitement is back and bigger than ever.

With some new coaches, new players, and even new kits, the Red Stars’ focus on the playoffs is still strong heading into this season.

Key Facts

At the conclusion of the 2017 campaign, the Chicago Red Stars announced that they renewed the contracts for their entire roster as the offseason commenced. As the New Year rang in, Draft Day was on the horizon, and the roster took on a very different look as big trades and draft day picks shook up the personnel with new faces. With the unfortunate folding of the Boston Breakers this year, a dispersal draft brought new acquisitions as well.

In addition to the roster shake ups, the team added to their technical staff with two new first assistant coaches, Craig Harrington and Gary Curneen. Owner Arnim Whisler has said the new coaches will allow for greater impact on the team and on the pitch, and that the team will approach game days differently with Head Coach Rory Dames still steering the ship.

2017 Record

11 wins 7 losses 6 Draws - 4th place

2017 Playoffs

Semi-Final appearance, lost against the North Carolina Courage.

Key Additions

International goal scoring phenom Sam Kerr joined the Red Stars after a draft day trade with Sky Blue FC. She will miss the first 5 weeks of the season due to Australian national team duty. Nikki Stanton was moved to Chicago in the same trade, and will provide much-needed midfield depth for the roster.

Chicago also welcomeed Michele Vasconcelos, as the 2017 draft pick finally joins the Red Stars roster. The BYU grad, who was named the West Coast Conference Player of the Year in 2016, missed last season as she announced her pregnancy shortly before the 2017 season. (Welcome, baby Scarlett!)

Rosie White joined the roster from the Boston Breakers dispersal draft. The New Zealand midfielder is rehabbing from injury, and can hopefully make a quick return to the pitch. Draft pick Emily Boyd earned the role of backup goalkeeper after a strong collegiate career with Cal and an impressive preseason showing.

Key Losses

The long-time Red Star and fan favorite Jen Hoy was part of a multi-team trade that saw her end up in New Jersey with Sky Blue FC. She provided a veteran presence and important forward depth for Chicago, and is a model for players that are the backbone of the league.

Michele Dalton is no longer team’s number 2. She had her best season with the Red stars back in 2015, when she won the starting role with Canadian international Karina LeBlanc was on World Cup duty, and helped lead the Red Stars into the playoffs.

Star forward and former team captain Christen Press is no longer with the Red Stars. She was allocated to Chicago in 2014 where she joined mid-season after playing in Europe, and after years of rumored unhappiness, a draft day trade saw the leading Red Stars’ goalscorer traded to Houston.

The Red Stars might have gained another lethal striker in Kerr, but the hole that Press leaves behind is much larger than that of goalscorer. Though she thrives as a central striker, Press was often found playing in a deeper role for the Red Stars as the #10. As a player that grew into a leadership role on a young squad, she was often responsible for creating goals and coordinating the attack.

She left her mark on Chicago and Red Stars history as the all time leading goal scorer, as a captain, and as the offensive focal point of a team that made the semi-finals for three consecutive seasons.

Projected Starting XI (formation)

While they’re known for being a 4-4-2 Diamond team, the Red Stars have been utilizing a 4-3-3 in preseason matches. As the regular season kicks off this weekend, Chicago is nursing some injuries to significant players. Julie Ertz, Casey Short, Vanessa DiBernardo, and Yuki Nagasato are already on the injury report heading into Week 1.

The impact of these injury layoffs is compounded by the prolonged absence of Sam Kerr who’s off with the Matildas for the Asian Cup. So buckle up and be prepared for the projected starting lineup to look different week to week for at least the first quarter of the season.

Look for Sofia Huerta, Nikki Stanton, Arin Gilliland, and Katie Naughton to get some minutes and make an impact on the pitch.

What we think of our team

From quiet middle of the table gritty grinders to constant contenders, the Red Stars have come a long way since 2013. With a strong core in place, Chicago has the pieces for another playoff run. But it’s no longer about “getting there.” The focus now is on bringing an NWSL championship to sweet home Chicago.

What outsiders think of our team

”The Red Stars acquired some quality pieces this offseason with the loss of Christen Press and have kept the team wholly intact. But this wholly intact team has had issues getting past that final hump, so will these few new additions be the key? The beginning of this season with Sam Kerr gone and injuries will be a lot to handle. Chicago’s lacked a bit of a tactical prowess in needed adjustments in past seasons so I’m interested to see if the new additions can help with that and push the team forward with even more success.” - Random SB Nation Staff Member

Biggest Rival (and why)

Regional: Formerly FC Kansas City

Longevity: Boston Breakers (Forever) and Western New York Flash (Now North Carolina)

Currently: North Carolina seem like fun.

Best social media follow

Team: In a dramatic turn of events, the official Red Stars twitter account was suspended! *dramatic music*

In an effort to keep new and old fans engaged they created a temporary new handle (@chiredstarsPR). They’re also here if you prefer Instagram.

Players: Last season we told you to follow forward Steph McCaffrey. This year we’re doing it again. This year McCaffrey has launched “Hidden Gems” and its mission statement on the website explains it as “a non-profit connecting girls playing soccer in low-income areas of the United States with professionals; building ambition and increasing opportunity in and out of sport.” Give them a follow and please support if you can.

If you’re into fashion and chicago things, follow our 2017 Fashion Icon Sarah Gorden and runner-up Sofia Huerta for some baller fashion trends.

Fan Support: Make sure you’re following supporter group Local 134 for ways to support the Chicago Red Stars and to enhance your game day experience via Twitter and Instagram.

Our season hinges on:

Health. For the love of all things Chicago, Health.

Why this year won’t be like last year

There has been a narrative that has centered around Christen Press and the Red Stars over the last few seasons. “Press is their complete offense,” or “Not enough forward chemistry between Press and [Player],” or “Wow, f*** that crossbar.” And now some out there might add another— “What will the offense look like without Press?”

You can have the best forward in the world, but what does that mean for your team if she doesn’t receive the ball. Ball possession doesn’t mean much if you can’t get the ball in the back of the net. And even the most organized team can broken down on their worst day.

The Red Stars are heading into 2018 with a rejiggered roster and a revamped playing style. The players and the staff are excited and locked in. The hype is real.

Key Player

Who everyone will be watching: Sam Kerr.

Who you should be watching: Arin Gilliland, Danielle Colaprico, Michele Vasconcelos, Katie Naughton, Sofia Huerta.

Predicted Finish in 2017

The Red Stars lost some key players, but also gained some in their stead. The problem is every other team in the league improved their rosters as well. It’s a longer season (24 games), and the final four regular season matches are on the road. In the NWSL, it’s never an easy road. Fourth place, but with wild confidence.

Wild Prediction

Arin Gilliland will continue her goal scoring into 2018 after a successful stint with Newcastle Jets in Australia’s W-League. Oh, and 2018 CRS = set piece all-stars.