It is an exciting time for fans as social media will be filled with twitter posts, youtube videos, articles and accounts from players, teams, reporters, supporter groups and other fans as preparation for the upcoming season is in full swing. On March 11, NWSL players and draftees can officially report to their respective clubs and on March 14, the preseason officially begins.
During the offseason the Red Stars have undergone numerous changes to the roster. It should be expected that during the course of the preseason that each position will face different questions as to who ultimately makes the roster.
At the goalkeeping position gone is Canadian Karina LeBlanc and in her stead the Red Stars acquired Alyssa Naeher from the Boston Breakers. The 27 year old goalkeeper was named the 2014 NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year with 106 saves and a save of 67 percent. In 2015 Naeher was called up to the United States Women’s National Team, in her time with the Breakers Naeher finished the season playing 12 games with 65 saves and save percentage of 68 percent.
Naeher will have some stiff competition from Michele Dalton for the starting position. Dalton played the same number of games in 2015 and finished with 46 saves, a save percentage of 81 percent, and five shut outs. Will the newcomer Naeher return to her 2014 form with a team expected to make the playoffs? With a full season behind her, will Dalton have better communication with the Red Star’s defense and midfield? The case can be made for either goalkeeper.
The defense will miss veterans Michelle Lomnicki, Taryn Hemmings, and Abby Erceg. The experience on the backline will now fall to NWSL 2015 2nd Team member Arin Gilliland, Samantha Johnson, Rachel Quon and 2015 golden ball nominee Julie Johnston.
The battle for a spot on the defense will be the most contested as four of the seven 2016 Red Star draftees were defenders. In the second round the Red Stars selected Katie Naughton of Notre Dame. Naughton was a four year starter and was called up to play for the United States in the 2014 U-20 World Cup. At Notre Dame, the Elk Grove native earned 2015, 2014 All-ACC 2nd team, NSCAA All-Southeast 1st team 2015, NSCAA All-Southeast 2nd team 2014, All Big East Rookie team 2013 and as a defender scored a career 11 goals. As a freshman she was part of a defense that recorded 10 shutouts earning a 0.73 goals against average. Naughton followed that season up with 8 shutouts and a 0.87 goals against average. The question for Naughton is whether she can return to the early college form that saw Notre Dame reach the quarterfinals in 2014.
In the third round the Red Stars selected Sarah Gorden from DePaul. Gorden earned NSCAA All-Northeast 1st team in 2015 and 2014, All Big East 1st team 2015, All Big East 2nd team 2014. The Blue Demon tied for fourth in all time career starts at DePaul, in 2014 saw her team give up the fewest goals in the Big East while leading the defense to a school record of 20 game unbeaten streak.
Adrienne Jordan of Northern Colorado was selected in the fourth round. Jordan earned Big Sky Defensive MVP in 2015 and 2014 and NSCAA All-Pacific 2nd team 2015,NSCAA All Pacific 1st team 2014. The Colorado Springs native saw plenty opportunity offensively taking a career 66 shots, 30 on goal and scoring 2 goals.
Former Missouri player Candace Johnson was selected in the fourth round. The Tiger earned All SEC 1st team 2015, All SEC 2nd Team 2014, NSCAA All South 2nd team 2015. The Dallas player scored a career 6 goals as a defender and in 2015 led the defense to 5 shutouts and a 0.84 goals against average.
Each draftee will be looking to make an impact in a competitive preseason camp.
The Red Stars have also acquired Casey Short. Short played for Avaldsnes IL in 2015 and was named as one of the Top 11 in the Norwegian Toppserien League. Avaldsnes IL finish second in the Toppserien. Short played for Florida State during her college career earning NSCAA All-Southeast 1st team in 2012 and All ACC 2nd team in 2010 and 2012.
In 2015 we saw Danielle Colaprico become the NWSL Rookie of the Year and earned a call up to the United States Women’s National Team’s training camp. Vanessa Dibernardo spent the offseason in Australia playing with the Perth Glory in the Australian W-League. Back are Alyssa Mautz, Zakiya Bywaters, and Mary Luba.
Though veteran leadership is hurting with the departure of Lori Chalupny and Shannon Box, the Red Stars brought in Amanda DaCosta and Brittany Bock. DaCosta played a season with the Washington Spirit and two seasons with the Liverpool Ladies before coming to Chicago. In 2013 Bock signed with the Sky Blue FC before playing two seasons with the Dash before finally coming to Chicago.
Will DaCosta find new form playing with a more versatile offense? How will Bock play into the midfield? In addition the Red Stars drafted Courtney Raetzman. Raetzman played for Kentucky earning 2015 and 2014 All SEC 1st Team and scoring a career 12 goals and 16 assits. The Elk Grove native also played for the Chicago Red Star Reserves and was named to the WPL All Star team. With the departure of Lori Chalupny it is possible that the midfield will undergo the most changes in both style and personnel.
The forwards seems to be the most stable, though Adriana Leon and Melissa Tancredi have gone.
In their place the Red Stars have drafted Ashleigh Ellenwood and Jennelle Flaws. Ellenwood, who played for the Arkansas Razorbacks, was a two time SEC honoree; All SEC second team in 2013 and SEC all freshman team in 2012. The Michigan city native is second on the school’s all-time assist list with 23, third in the school’s all time points list with 83 and fourth in Arkansas history with 30 career goals. Ellenwood was also a member of the WPSL Red Stars, the Red Stars reserve team in 2015 and was named to the 2015 WPSL All Star Team.
Another newcomer, Jennelle Flaws played for Illinois. During her time there she earned several awards including Big Ten Forward of the Year in 2013 and 2014 and All Big Ten 2nd Team in 2015. Flaws became Illinois’ all time career leader in goals (54), shots on goal (169), shots (349) and points (122). She played for the Red Star Reserves in 2014 and in 2015 she played with the Sounder Women.
How will these two fit in a lineup that features Jen Hoy, Cara Walls, Sofia Huerta, and superstar Christen Press? It can be safe to assume that the draftees will be given time to adjust to the professional level, stepping up to fill in when players are called up for international duty. Even who starts alongside Christen Press is still up in the air. Will it be Jen Hoy? Sofia Huerta?
As the preseason gets under way the questions raised during the offseason will tested. Who starts for the Red Stars in the season opener will largely be determined by what Head Coach Rory Dames during these upcoming weeks. It’s about time to get excited for the 2016 season.