On Saturday afternoon, after days of speculative roster movement and trade rumors, the Chicago Red Stars sent out a news release stating the absence of several players ahead of their match against the Portland Thorns.
Sofia Huerta, Samantha Johnson, and Taylor Comeau would not be listed on the roster due to pending trade transactions, Lauren Kaskie had been waived, and the Red Stars had to play their match in the next two hours.
What kind of match would be played? How would the starting line up even look? Let alone against a Portland team they have always had problems solving no matter what season or personnel. Whatever the result, everyone would get to see it on ESPNews as the first match of the final featured games of the week via ESPN.
Where Did You Go?
Heading into the second half of the NWSL season after an international break, the Red Stars sat in the middle of the league table - on the outside looking in - with a chance to try stay in the playoff conversation along with few other teams hunting for points as well.
It’s an unfamiliar position for a Chicago team having been in the top four playoff positions the last three years during the midway point of a season. Table points are the biggest area of parity for NWSL this year, and is possibly one of many reasons why Saturday’s match felt particularly heavy.
The significance of tie breakers down the stretch, the return of Casey Short and Vanessa DiBernardo back from injuries, and the absence of players like Comeau and Kaskie, but particularly Huerta and Johnson who have become staples of the Red Stars roster.
While ESPNews tried to dissect the potential trades and showed glimpses of a rights-held player in Morgan Brian, the Chicago Red Stars did what was asked of them - they went out, played soccer, and got a result - a good old fashioned draw. The outcome seemed fair considering all the prior circumstances.
Chicago earns the point at home against Portland. pic.twitter.com/a9E3fhePIh— Chicago Red Stars (@chiredstarsPR) June 17, 2018
While exiting the pitch, various Red Stars players expressed a belied in unity in their loyalty to each other despite all the ‘noise’ around them and the team.
“We love every one of our teammates,” Red Stars captain Julie Ertz said. “I think in the year - just from the beginning with injuries - we’ve kind of had a lot of adversity, and it’s kind of been the next player up.”
“Any time there’s movement or a trade or anything like that, it’s not easy.” Ertz elaborated on the team’s mentality going into the match saying, “But we knew - we came before the game and had talked about it - we had a game [Portland] and knew what we needed to do and came together and made sure that we could perform together.”
Why Would You Stay?
Head Coach Rory Dames recognized the various emotions heading into a match, and praised the play of his team through the tough moments saying “I’m extremely proud of the group. We had a tough week. Especially emotionally for some of these guys. I thought we came out and played well.”
While specifics of the trade are now known, at the time were not official, and left pending. “The transactions that are going on will affect different players in different ways, but at the end of the day we still have a really good group in that locker room,” Dames said.
The Head Coach elaborated on the Red Stars composure and mentality saying, “We have a very committed group in that locker room, and anybody that thinks that we’re throwing in the towel or moving on doesn’t know us very well - and I think we made that statement with what our intent is tonight.”
I Thought You’d Never Grow Up
The proposed trades at the time mentioning Huerta, Johnson, and Comeau - were linked with Houston and Utah. Including receiving the rights to Christen Press back to Chicago, if only to be used to complete the trade. For a brief a fleeting moment, the band was back together, only to be separated again.
All the potential movement had the team collecting themselves to focus on the match before hand, Red Stars midfielder Danielle Colaprico explained saying, “We came together as a group earlier today and we discussed it and we’re gonna put it behind us and refocus in the locker room.”
She continued saying “Two or three hours before the game - our focus was on tonight - this game, and the season moving forward.”
It was a particularly complicated moment, especially in regards to Huerta, who has aspirations beyond club and has her sights on World Cup qualifiers - and according to U.S. Head Coach Jill Ellis, must do so as an outside back - even after Huerta has reached such successes with Chicago as forward.
On a team that has outside backs in Arin Gilliland and Casey Short - and with the rise of Sarah Gorden - it was an increasingly small window of opportunity at the position in Chicago. Huerta was drafted by Chicago in 2015 and was part of the same draft class that saw GIlliland and Colaprico become Red Stars.
Thank You, @schuerta ♥️ pic.twitter.com/DYKly1lYj1— Chicago Red Stars (@chiredstarsPR) June 18, 2018
After nearly four years with the team and playing together, Colaprico acknowledges the difficulty of trades simply saying, “It’s tough losing teammates, any teammate in general. It’s tough losing them because we’re a family here, and we’ve been together for so long, so that makes it even harder.”
Colaprico added, “It’s been four years. But, the focus is on the Red Stars and with my teammates here now and that’s what I’m kinda focusing on right now.”
Colaprico commended her team’s play and showed the leadership that Dames has mentioned so many of this players have, while complimenting her teammates and demanding more from future matches saying “We have to start winning games and finding ways to put away our chances.”
She explained saying, “I think that this was a good result for us in terms of - ‘it’s Portland and we struggle with Portland’ - especially on set pieces and balls in the box and winning the 18’s against a team like that.”
After analysing her team’s performance, Colaprico remained focused, ending with, “I think it’s good to come away with a tie, but we need to get 3 points next weekend.”
Don’t You Miss The Days?
Vanessa DiBernardo made her 2018 debut in the final minutes of the match. The midfielder has often worn the arm band for Chicago and quickly connected with her teammates on the pitch, namely Sam Kerr.
The connection from Australia lives on. pic.twitter.com/84gBi4P8CW— Chicago Red Stars (@chiredstarsPR) June 17, 2018
“It’s always tough when there’s things going on.” DiBernardo said. “As a group I think we’re really good at sticking together.”
The long time Red Star emphasized her teams grit and intention, saying, “Today we knew we had to go out there and fight together and show that this is kind of the group that we have moving forward.”
Don’t You Miss The Danger
As Chicago announced the finalized details of the trade, it welcomed Brooke Elby to the team along with tons of future draft picks.
NEWS | Red Stars take part in three-team trade that brings @BrookeLB93 and six @NWSL picks, including the 2019 first overall pick, to Chicago.— Chicago Red Stars (@chiredstarsPR) June 18, 2018
More | https://t.co/oHTvdUSpI2 pic.twitter.com/giixFXOX4U
The details also opened the doors for additional speculation, interpretation of what it all symbolized, and of course more questions.
Are there more roster moves still coming? Maybe.
Is this a concession? DiBernardo is clear. “We’re not giving up on ourselves this year - we’re ready to make the push in the second half of the season.”