On Sunday night, the Chicago Red Stars will open their ninth National Women’s Soccer League campaign on the road against the recently-crowned 2021 Challenge Cup champion Portland Thorns at Providence Park.
Ahead of the season opener and just over a week before they return to SeatGeek Stadium, Red Stars midfielder Danielle Colaprico, forward Kealia Watt, and head coach Rory Dames spoke with media on Friday ahead of their trip out West
A Much Needed and Beneficial Break
“I think that was much needed,” said Colaprico of the team’s post-Challenge Cup vacation. “I feel like mentally and physically we were all exhausted.”
When Sunday’s game kicks off, it will have been 19 days since the Red Stars played soccer. Following the breather, it’s been full speed ahead over the last week.
“They came back physically better,” Dames said of his players. “They had a hard week last week, we overloaded them a bit and pushed them, built some resilience in them.”
While physical resilience and stamina will be key for a jam-packed 24-game season, Dames is less concerned about his team’s mental conditioning given the amount of veteran experience on the roster and the familiarity of a team with a well-established core. As for the players, the rest combined with their progress as a team this spring sets them up well to start the season.
“I think it took us a it took us a little bit to figure out what our identity is going to be moving throughout the season,” said Watt, reflecting on how the lineup evolved as players returned from injury and national team duty. “I think we were upset with the loss in [Tacoma], but we felt like that was our best game as a team; we really started figuring each other out and gelling.”
“I feel like we’ve grown a lot as a team,” added Colaprico. “I feel like we’re ready for this game against Portland and we’re just so excited to start the season.”
Starting Off With The Toughest Road Trip of the Year
Speaking of Portland, there isn’t a tougher assignment on the calendar than the usually raucous confines of Providence Park, particularly against a stacked roster that added Crystal Dunn in the offseason to join fellow international stars Becky Sauerbrunn, Lindsey Horan and Christine Sinclair along with plenty of depth in young, attacking talent.
“One of our coaches said the other day, however this game goes is really going to set the tone for the season,” said Watt. “And I think he’s right. We need to go in and play well and get a win. That is a must for us. And I think it really will just set the tone moving forward.”
“I do think when it’s all said and done, that we’ll be two of the teams that are standing when it counts,” Dames said, while not wanting to place two much importance on one game. “If we go there and get a result, that’ll be great. But all that means is we get on the plane and come home and get ready for the next weekend. And if we go there and lose that’ll not be so great. But we’ll get on the plane, we’ll go home and we’ll get ready for Gotham next weekend.”
Who’s In / Who’s Out
The Red Stars continue to get healthier as a team, with Emily Boyd the only player remaining on the injury report due to continued recovery from last year’s knee injury. Dames said that defender Bianca St. Georges was given the green light last week and is back in full training, while forward Mallory Pugh will be available for selection on Sunday as she continues to work back to full fitness.
The most notable absence will be midfielder Morgan Gautrat, who was suspended for the game following an incident in the OL reign match (which her teammates were very vocal about on Twitter in their confusion with/opposition to the decision). Gautrat went through a full Red Stars preseason uninhibited by injury for the first time and figures to be as important as ever this season.
“I think we’re disappointed about the whole Morgan situation,” said Dames.“If anything, we would like Morgan to play with a little bit more physicality than she does.”
The European season is wrapping up, with the UEFA Women’s Champions League Final to take place just a few hours before the Red Stars kick off in Portland on Sunday.
Asked about the club’s ongoing pursuit of players in Europe, Dames continued to play things close to the vest. He did confirm they continue to pursue two European-based players.
“They still have some cup events that go on after the regular season is over in some of the domestic leagues so nothing’s changed on that front. No news to report that would be groundbreaking… Nothing’s changed in a bad way or a good way. We have to wait for them to finish their contracts and run out commitments that they have. “
Chelsea and Sam Kerr face Barcelona at 2 PM CT on Sunday. The match can be streamed on Paramount+
Supporting Sarah Gorden Following the NWSL’s Houston Investigation
This was the first opportunity for media to speak to players or Dames since the NWSL announced no further sanctions or actions would be taken after completing an investigation into the events that occurred following the Red Stars’ first Challenge Cup game in Houston when Sarah Gorden alleges she and her boyfriend were racially profiled by stadium security.
All three of Watt, Colaprico and Dames were asked to comment. Their responses have been lightly edited.
“It was important that we supported her and did what we could in that situation. And I think moving forward, it’s just supporting our Black players and amplifying their voices and communicating with them. And that’s a something that will be here throughout the entire season… We have a lot of awesome people in this organization and on our team that have guided us through that because at times we have needed some guidance. And we’re very lucky to have Sarah as a leader in that in that fight.”
“I think that it’s so nice having Sarah on our team, because she’s taught us so much. And she’s, you know, kind of guided us through this whole process with her. So it’s important for us to support her in any way we can and all the Black players in the league and on our team. And I think that if you’re one of us Red Stars, we’re gonna support you, regardless of who you are.”
“The league did what it needed to do with whoever it felt it needed to do it with. The people within our locker room certainly didn’t need any sort of investigation to tell us what did or did not occur, or if it was or was not ok. I think the thing that’s been lost in all of this is, regardless of what any investigation turns up, it doesn’t change the way Sarah was made to feel. Sarah was still made to feel a certain way in that moment. Right, wrong, or indifferent that’s what happened. We’re been supportive of Sarah all along. I heard Kealia and Danny kind of touch on Sarah and the leadership role she plays here. So I would say that there were some big decisions from the league this week that our locker room was a bit disappointed in. But we can’t control those, so we try not to get caught up with them. Sarah certainly knows that everybody within our locker room has her back, supporters her, and believes what she told us. “
Outlook for the Season
Players and fans alike have waited what feels like longer than 19 months for a return to a full NWSL season. Adding to the excitement will be team rosters that are as strong as ever, with every game poised to be tough.
“In past years, there have always been a couple teams that aren’t as good, or it’s easier to play them,” Watt said. “I think this year is one of the first years where every single team is difficult to play.”
The Red Stars believe they’re as equipped as any other team to succeed this season, relying on a combination of veteran experience and roster depth that will allow them to pose a variety of difficulties for their opponents.
“I feel like we have a lot of dangerous players as opposed to one or two,” said Colaprico, who is entering her seventh season with the team. “I think we have the experience now, we’ve been to we’ve been to the championship, we’ve been to the semifinals, and we’ve gone through those tough games and we know what it takes to win in this league. It’s just focusing on those things and… playing the way Chicago red stars play.”
The Red Stars take on the Portland Thorns Sunday at 6 PM. The game can be streamed on Twitch.