It’s been interesting, following the ongoing media out of the Utah Royals’ practice space in Sandy, in the ongoing wake of the trade that sent Christen Press and Sam Johnson out west. They’re understandably excited to have the players coming in, and both Press and Johnson have had the opportunity to air some thoughts that up til now had been lingering under the surface.
More specifically to Chicago, Johnson mentioned that she’d been looking for a trade from the beginning of the season, but wasn’t expecting such a good fit to come so quickly. She also made a point to emphasize that she was excited to play for a club where all she had to worry about was playing soccer, as the support from the Utah FO was setting new standards for working conditions in the NWSL.
Now that is a detail I did not know. https://t.co/H6uPEsUwkf— John D. Halloran (@JohnDHalloran) June 26, 2018
None of that feels great to hear from a Red Stars standpoint, but it does draw into focus some of the ways the league is changing, and how Chicago fits into all of that. While the NWSL is raising standards every year, the reality of American WoSo is still that many league players hit a point in their mid to late twenties where they aren’t so sure the sacrifices, both in lifestyle and finances, are still worth it for the opportunity to play the game they love. In previous years, that usually meant a lot of sudden and early retirements, as players found other passions to fill their time, and more secure employment to start focusing on the future.
With expansion, and the growing pains that go along with that, some of that fringe-player mentality is shifting. More often than stark retirement, you’re seeing players start to look to other ‘Gold Standard’ teams entering the league as a chance to maneuver into new stages in their career; they can still pursue life as a professional athlete, but with more security and quality of life support than before. As we like to joke about Utah, sometimes you just want to go after that Bathrobe Money.
And while many of the independent teams still left in the league deal with this kind of exodus from time to time (see: Sky Blue FC, Washington Spirit, etc), Chicago’s turn in that spotlight in 2018 does highlight some of the ways the team has done a good job in growing with the league, and others in which it can do better.
For example, it makes a lot of sense that the Red Stars would go out of their way to make sure their international players feel grounded and at home when they arrive in town (especially if one of those players is Sam Kerr), and that national-team talent like Morgan Brian might take precedent, but that probably means more attrition in their homegrown player-base. They’ve also made great strides in facilities in the big move to Toyota Park, but comments like the ones from Arin Gilliland earlier in the year show that that deal still considers them secondary to their MLS counterpart, and players notice that.
In that regard, Chicago’s commitment to the draft shows a decent amount of self-awareness as to what exactly they can provide for players, and their spot in that trajectory of someone’s career. They just have to be careful that they don’t get left behind.