The Chicago Red Stars kick off their 2019 campaign this weekend in North Carolina where they will face the NWSL reigning champions, the Courage.
The match will feature several star players on both sides of the pitch like Sam Kerr and Julie Ertz on one end, along with Crystal Dunn and Samantha Mewis on the other. While some games this weekend might have a feel of kicking the rust off, this match is likely to be a bit of a headliner, with both teams having several players getting matches during preseason in international play.
Before the opening whistle happens, let’s recap how the Red Stars did in 2018.
What Happened Last Season?
Last season we learned that the Red Stars depth can carry a season when needed.
When the Red Stars headed into the 2018 season they were missing their star striker in Sam Kerr, who was on international duty with Australia, and they were carrying several injured players, including key starters in Julie Ertz, Casey Short, Vanessa DiBernardo, and Yuki Nagasato.
Although some games last season they were unable to roster more than 15 players, the team managed to grind their way through the first half of the season, going through a multi-game winless streak where they collected five draws over seven matches.
As the second half of the season approached and with Red Stars at a standstill on the NWSL table, the Club made a three-team trade that sent players Samantha Johnson, Taylor Comeau, and Sofia Huerta to Utah and Houston.
After the return and re-signing of Morgan Brian, the acquisition of Brooke Elby from Utah and the overall number 1 pick in the 2019 NWSL draft, Chicago went on a 12-game run to close out the season 6-4-2, locking up the fourth seed and punching their ticket to the playoffs.
Even though it was the Red Stars’ fourth consecutive postseason, Chicago fell once again in the semi-final to eventual champions, North Carolina Courage.
New Team, New Season
With the preseason coming to a close for the Red Stars and their 2019 roster dropped, the team heads into a new season with a few new faces in light of a World Cup year.
Stephanie McCaffrey announced her retirement, Rosie White opted not to return to focus on the World Cup with New Zealand and Summer Green signed with Swedish Club Vittsjo in the offseason.
Prior to the draft, Chicago announced a trade with Sky Blue FC for Mexican international Katie Johnson, who can provide the Red Stars with another scoring option up top with Kerr off on World Cup duty for Australia.
On draft day, the Red Stars and head coach Rory Dames made more memorable draft history as they drafted Tierna Davidson first overall from Stanford and Mexican international Maria Sanchez from Santa Clara. Both players are on the 2019 roster for this opening weekend.
2018 draft pick Zoey Goralski also earns a roster spot this year after a season with Red Star Reserves in WPSL.
Who Will Have An Impact?
Nagasato was instrumental in her chemistry with Kerr last year. Can there be a similar spark in players like Johnson or Sanchez? Scouting reports for Sanchez on draft day were complimentary of her strong left-footed service and ability to provide assists. While Johnson’s off the ball play can prove pivotal in the final third for Chicago.
How Will This Season Turn Out?
With international players being pulled out this season due to the World Cup, along with a break in the season for the same reason, it might not be a matter of if the Red Stars can play together, but whether or not how quickly they will be able to establish their style and tempo.
Last season the squad appeared to have run out of time as players were finding their form through injuries and having pushed forward through a big midseason trade that many perceived as a white flag on the season.
Chicago is no stranger to putting together strong performances in World Cup years as they showed in 2015. This team looks much different from four years ago, and if the Red Stars depth can perform similarly or better than last year, Chicago will find themselves right back in the playoffs once again to compete for a shot at the championship.