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Checking In With The Red Stars’ 2019 Rookies

Maria Sanchez and Kayla Sharples intend to turn heads this year

Photo by Nikita Taparia

As the Chicago Red Stars closed out preseason in Portland during the Thorns Preseason Spring Invitational, some players on the squad are giving the coaching staff some things to think about as it comes time to finalize the roster.

In their first preseason match as professionals, Maria Sanchez and Kayla Sharples connected for the 1st goal of the preseason tournament. A set piece corner sent in by Sanchez, that Sharples converted into goal.

The goal came as an equalizer after Chicago fell behind early in the match on a goal in the 6th minute. It would be the only goal on the day as the Red Stars fell 2-1 to the Thorns to open the tournament.

“I think it’s pretty cool that the goal happened,” said Sanchez. “Especially for me to be able to get an assist and for Kayla to be able to score it - I think that’s pretty awesome because it’s pretty much our first game as professionals I think that’s just the beginning to what could be an awesome season.”

Getting a start against Portland Thorns Tobin Heath and Christine Sinclair is no small task. “It was such a great opportunity and learning experience to be able to be on the field with such elite players both on the [Thorns] but also on the Chicago Red Stars,” said Sharples.

Increased Roster Sizes

During the NWSL offseason, the league announced expanded roster rules. Teams rosters will expand to a minimum of 20 and a maximum of 22. Teams will also be allowed to sign additional players, up to four, as supplemental players at league minimum contracts that will not count against the team Salary Cap.

As the Red Stars headed into preseason, the look of their roster appeared largely in shape. Roughly 18 to 20 returning players from last season, and the addition of Katie Johnson in the offseason.

It is a roster that is notoriously difficult to make, with a starting line up that is even harder to crack. In a World Cup year however, with some international players rotating in and out this season, there is at the very least an opportunity for some players to find a spot in Chicago.

Taking Notes

It’s preseason for coaches too as they take the time to evaluate players they decide to take into regular season.

“I think the fact that we got to play against under NWSL competition is a huge advantage than playing the college teams,” said Rory Dames.

“Maria has been very good in the first three weeks as has Kayla. Based off the health of where we’re at I thought it made sense to kind of put [them] up to see how both of them would do.”

“We actually had a team meeting the night before and that’s when Rory announced the starting lineup and I was shocked that I was starting,” said Sharples.

Both Sanchez and Sharples saw additional time in the second preseason match against Reign FC. However their roles were as substitutes in a match the Red Stars lost on 2-1 scoreline. As rookies, facing two top club teams in preseason is a good measuring stick to help gage the change in speed of play from the collegiate level to the pro level.

“The speed of play is faster, but I think both of us have been able to adapt to that,” said Sharples.

“I think [that] throughout this entire first season [will be] owning up your weaknesses and trying to improve them. [And] to adapt to the speed of play and accepting the fact that you’re going to make mistakes but [ask] What are you going to do after that? How are you going to correct them?”

Impacting Opening Weekend

Sanchez earned a second start in her third appearance during Chicago’s preseason, while Sharples had 1 start over 3 appearances. Sanchez earned an additional assist on Sam Kerr’s goal during the Red Stars final match against U23’s.

The Red Stars ended the tournament with 3 losses, all on a 2-1 scoreline, and finalized rosters should be announced prior to the season opener on April 13th. Time will tell how advanced the roles of rookies will be as the regular season now begins.