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Trying to Decipher the Red Stars Midfield

Colaprico, DiBernardo, Gautrat, Woldmoe... how will this work?

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Vanessa DiBernardo and Sarah Woldmoe in the 2012 U20 World Cup Final vs Germany
Photo credit should read TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP via Getty Images

When the Chicago Red Stars announced their blockbuster trade with Sky Blue (now Gotham) FC on January 21st, it was the acquisition of USWNT forward Mallory Pugh that grabbed the headlines. While Pugh’s arrival has brought a mixture of excitement about her potential and concern about her injury record, she isn’t the player from that trade who has prompted the most debate among Chicago fans.

That would be Sarah Woldmoe, a six-year National Women’s Soccer League veteran and Sky Blue’s captain. Woldmoe plays in midfield, usually either as a 6 or an 8. This quickly raised a conflict, due to how established the Red Stars are in those areas. For the last four seasons, the Red Stars’ first-choice midfield featured a double pivot of Danielle Colaprico and Morgan Gautrat (Colaprico being the more defensive of the two) with Vanessa DiBernardo ahead of them as a number 10.

Wednesday presented an opportunity to get some answers on how Woldmoe’s addition was going so far in preseason, as well as what her inclusion in the squad might mean for the lineup and tactics. Both Gautrat and DiBernardo spoke to media on Wednesday morning, along with head coach Rory Dames.

It turns out there’s already plenty of familiarity with Woldmoe, particularly for Gautrat and DiBernardo. All three were members of the 2012 U20 World Cup-winning squad (along with Julie Ertz and Kealia Watt), and all three started together in the final against Germany. Gautrat and DiBernardo said they’ve reflected a lot on that tournament over the past few weeks, as playing together again for the first time since has brough back plenty of memories.

Woldmoe’s inclusion isn’t the only new factor for the Red Stars midfield this season: it’s the first time all three of Gautrat, DiBeranrdo and Colaprico have all been fully fit for preseason. Gautrat in particular mentioned how refreshing it’s been to go through the whole process, after being acquired from Houston mid-season in 2017 and then returning from Lyon in France with an injury that saw an initial two-and-a-half-year deal in France be cut short after just five months and not being fully fit until 2019.

Given the players’ injury histories, Dames stressed how important the depth is that Woldmoe’s addition provides. The last couple of seasons, an incredible weight has been placed on the incumbent midfield trio to play as many minutes as possible. Dames pointed to how losing any one of the three has in the past required him to adjust his tactics, but he feels more at ease with Woldmoe in the squad and the return of midfielder Nikki Stanton from a season in Norway.

Dames again hinted, as he has at various points this offseason, that Julie Ertz could see time in the midfield this season as well. This leaves quite the selection headache for the Red Stars coach, who though he didn’t reveal much did say they could “play with three or four” in midfield.

The only guarantee is that with the Challenge Cup to kick things off, a full season to follow, and the Olympics this summer, there will undoubtedly be a need for squad depth and rotation. While fans may not have any new answers on how the pieces will all fit together in the puzzle of the Red Stars midfield, they won’t have to guess much longer: the Red Stars are back on the field tomorrow night.