As the Chicago Red Stars (0-1) take on FC Kansas City (1-0) at home on Saturday, April 22, it'll mark their 10th consecutive season as a professional women’s soccer team. Established in 2007 by former Chicago Fire executive Peter Wilt, the team began play at Toyota Park in 2009, and remained a fixture at the park for two seasons under the former Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) league.
Through several professional incarnations, the Red Stars have remained, at its core, a very young, aggressive, attacking squad who seem to have found their footing in recent years under the tutelage of Head Coach Rory Dames. 2016 was a banner year for the Red Stars as they returned to the “perfect pitch” of Toyota Park after a six-year absence.
With Dames leading one of the youngest teams in the NWSL, the Red Stars relied on a nucleus of US Women’s National Team members, including forward Christen Press, defender Julie Johnston, and goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher. Press scored 25 goals in 37 matches last season. Showing considerable strength on home turf, they nearly became the first NWSL team to go undefeated at home, losing only to FC Kansas City on September 7. But they earned their second consecutive playoff berth after going 9-5-6 in the regular season, securing third-place behind the Portland Thorns and the Washington Spirit.
The Red Stars’ season ended in the semifinals, losing 2-1 on the road to the Washington Spirit on September 30.
Dames, however, praised the leadership of the team, especially Press. “Christen far exceeded my expectations of what I thought she could grow into in the role [of leadership],” he said at the end of the season. “She found her way and Julie found her way with the group. I think we have some really good players who grew to be leaders outside of the field and that’s been huge for us.”
Press, who captains the team, Johnston Ertz, who married recently, and Naeher are leading 19 returning players, including veteran midfielders Danielle Colaprico, co-captain Vanessa DiBernardo, forward Sofia Huerta, and midfielder Alyssa Mautz. Huerta and forward Stephanie McCaffrey are expected to combine on the attack with Press in 2017, as they did in the latter half of the 2016 season. Additionally, defenders Arin Gilliland and Casey Short are expected to be one of the best outside back duos in the league this year.
That makes expectations high for the 2017 season. The Red Stars opened with a 2-0 loss to the Houston Dash on April 15.
New Players to Watch:
Two players hoping to make the 20-player roster this month are drawing favorable attention. Morgan Proffitt, the 12th overall pick in the 2017 NWSL draft and a graduate of Marquette University, is a tactician on defense and provides needed strength in midfield. In the absence of Johnston Ertz, she played 45 minutes and released three shots in the second half of Game 1 in Portland, nearly scoring on one.
While at Marquette, Profitt played two seasons with the Red Stars Reserves of the Women’s Premier Soccer League, including helping the Reserves claim the 2015 WPSL Championship title. In 2016, Proffitt appeared in three matches and scored one goal.
“Preseason has been going pretty well thus far,” Proffitt told Red Stars online. “The speed of play and getting used to different styles of players was challenging at first, but it is coming along. Definitely the transition from college to professional play is a big one, but each day I am learning and soaking in information.”
Summer Green was drafted 30th overall to the Seattle Reign after earning 25 goals and 23 assists in 82 matches for the University of North Carolina. The Red Stars acquired the rights to Green in December, ironically, as she was rehabbing from ACL surgery. The 22-year-old Michigan native told Red Stars online she’s excited to be coming back to the Midwest.
“When I found out they acquired me I was just beyond excited to be anywhere really, but especially to a team that has such success and seasoned players,” said Green. “It was pretty intimidating but even more exciting to find out I was getting an opportunity to play with such great players.”
Lifetime Television Network will carry many of the NWSL matches this season, including the Red Stars at the Portland Thorns on Saturday, April 29, and live at Toyota Park against the Houston Dash on May 6th.
Tickets and information are available at www.chicagoredstars.com.