With the 2019 NWSL draft taking place in our fair city, one had to expect that the Red Stars would be busy setting the themselves up for the future while still betting on this year’s top prospects, in what usually proves to be Chicago’s most productive route to developing their roster.
With all that in mind, it’s no surprise that Chicago started making moves a little bit early, kicking off the week by bringing forward Katie Johnson in from Sky Blue FC in exchange for the sixth pick in the 2019 draft and Chicago’s natural second round pick in 2020. Wednesday also came with the news that rising U.S. Women’s National Team star Tierna Davidson was ultimately going to be available for selection, deciding to leave Stanford a year early after months of speculation.
While all of that was very exciting news, Chicago’s action on Wednesday predicated that their draft day was probably destined to come with fewer surprises. And if there was any question that the Red Stars were going to take Davidson, it was one specifically of the Red Stars’ needs right now.
This year’s draft class promised a fair amount of depth defensively, which is an area that Chicago could always stand to firm up, but that isn’t the most pressing issue on the roster. The Johnson trade somewhat eased Chicago’s need for a forward to carry the scoring load when Sam Kerr is away on international duty (and she could also theoretically slot out wide when Kerr is available), but the Red Stars are still searching for a truly deadly winger to help in the attack.
And while the prospect of Davidson seems like a no-brainer, she does usher in some questions that the Red Stars are going to have to answer before their opening match in 2019. For much of the second half of the 2018 season, the center-back pairing of Julie Ertz and Katie Naughton held down a strong backline that saw the Red Stars move confidently into the semifinal, and that arguably solved some of the frustration in Chicago’s midfield. The infusion of Davidson into the defense could either push Julie Ertz back into that very crowded midfield, or it could drop Naughton to the bench, which is not a move that her play has warranted.
However, like with most Chicago drafts, these are champagne problems. Tierna Davidson was absolutely the most talented player available on Thursday, and with USWNT allocations being confirmed soon, she is probably going to be free. The overcrowding issues won’t likely play out in full for a number of years due to the major international tournaments in 2019 and 2020, and Davidson has a huge upside to build on. I’m also hesitant to declare Chicago’s offseason movement finished after today, especially with the salary cap space available should Morgan Brian also be once again allocated going into this year.
But what about the rest of the draft? One of the nice things about following the way Chicago manages their draft days is the thread of logic that follows every pick, and the Red Stars pretty much rolled through the following rounds with strategies that have served them well in the past. Maria Sanchez made a lot of sense at No. 15, with a wealth of international experience with Mexico and a rocket of a left foot that could develop into her taking up that left-side winger role that the Red Stars have been looking for.
She’ll also reunite with her with her international teammates in Johnson and Christina Murillo when she joins the club, which is a delightful development in Chicago’s roster. There is a secret wealth of Mexican talent available in the NWSL, and the Red Stars’ reputation for player development speaks for itself.
Bianca St. George and April Bockin, taken in the third and fourth rounds respectively, are both talented all-around players and could absolutely contribute to the team, particularly during the World Cup. St. Georges is potentially an interesting pick, in that as a Canadian player she might require an international spot to be retained on the roster, though at this moment it’s unclear if that will be an issue (one of St. Georges’s parents is American).
The rest of Chicago’s picks went towards playing one of Rory Dames’s favorite games: drafting the locals. Kayla Sharples, Hannah Davison and Jenna Szczesny are all from the Chicagoland area, and will be a core either in the Red Stars Reserves, or filling out the additional practice player spots that will be supplementing full NWSL rosters this year.
So, what does this all mean? A lot, but also not that much. In a way, Chicago took a very straightforward approach to the draft this year: select the best players available, make sure to be well set up in 2020, and take a look at players that could help in supplementary roles. Today, like most days, was a good one to be a Red Star, and this season is going to be a lot of fun.