June 16, 2009

WPS Draft Revisited-Chicago Red Stars

For the third installment on the 2009 WPS Draft, we'll take a look at the Chicago Red Stars.

Who They Drafted
1st round (#2)-Megan Rapinoe, Portland; 2nd round (#13)-Nikki Krzysik, Virginia; 2nd round (#14 from Boston)-Brittany Klein, Santa Clara; 3rd round (#16)-Natalie Spilger, Stanford; 4th round (#27)-Jen Branam, North Carolina; 4th round (#28 from Boston)-Chioma Igwe, Santa Clara; 5th round (#30)-Stacey Tullock, Arizona State; 7th round (#44)-Lauren Sesselmann, Purdue; 8th round (#55)-Kat Tarr, Missouri; 9th round (#58)-Jessica O'Rourke, North Carolina State.

Chicago appeared to have a great defense in the making, but by the time draft day came around, they knew that they had lost Kate Markgraf for the season. The Red Stars went with college seniors in the first two picks. They picked Natalie Spilger in the 3rd round, the oldest player taken in the first 25 picks, followed by a veteran goalkeeper, Jen Branam. After taking Rapinoe with the 2nd overall pick, they made a number of picks to address the defensive unit and defensive midfield with Krzysik, Klein, Spilger, Igwe, and Tarr. They also made the major trade of the day which is discussed below. By making that trade, they had possession of 6 picks in the first four rounds.

The Trade
Chicago was involved in the biggest draft day trade. They traded the rights to international player Alex Scott and their picks in the 6th and 10th rounds (#41 and #69) to Boston for the Breakers' 2nd and 4th round picks (#14 and #28). Both teams would probably have selected different players had they kept those picks, but the trade ended up being Alex Scott, Kelly Schmedes, and Stacy Bishop for Brittany Klein and Chioma Igwe. Although all four draft picks, especially Klein, have contributed to their teams, Scott is still the primary player in that trade. She would be considered for all-league honors if the season were to end today. Because of that, I think you would have to say the Breakers got the better of the deal, although I think both teams would sincerely tell you that they are happy with what they got out of the trade.

Current WPS Status
For the Chicago Red Stars, 5 of their 10 draft picks are still on their roster, 5 were released, 2 of which are now on other WPS rosters.

Full time starters (4)-Rapinoe, Krzysik, Klein, Igwe.
Part time starters & other full roster players (1)-Spilger.
Released (5)-Branam, Tullock, Sesselmann, Tarr, O'Rourke.

Note that Spilger has recently taken over a starting position, while Krzysik has not started the last three games. Branam and Sesselmann are now on Sky Blue's roster.

What They've Done
Rapinoe-9 G, 9 GS, 687 Min, 1 goal, 1 assist, 3 points, 19 shots, 2 SOG
Krzysik-9 G, 7 GS, 608 Min
Klein-10 G, 10 GS, 810 Min, 1 goal, 2 assists, 4 points, 3 shots, 2 SOG
Spilger-7 G, 4 GS, 372 Min
Igwe-9 G, 7 GS, 613 Min, 2 shots, 1 SOG

Total Offensive Output-44 G, 37 GS, 3090 Min, 2 Goals, 3 Assists, 7 Points, 24 Shots, 5 SOG.

G=Games; GS=Games Started; Min=Minutes; SOG=Shots on Goal.

The Players

Megan Rapinoe-Her name may have been mispronounced on draft day, but people that follow women's soccer knew that Rapinoe was a special player. I thought she might go to Gold Pride since her hometown is Redding, California, but Chicago nabbed her before FCGP got the chance. Things haven't been easy for Rapinoe, who suffered two serious knee injuries at Portland. In spite of that, she has persevered and is one of the rising stars on the USWNT. She is a great one-on-one player and scored her only WPS goal on such a move, finishing with a left footed shot against Boston. She can get off a shot in extremely tight space and can bend it about any way she wants. Rapinoe can be deadly accurate with her shot, as she proved for the US at the Algarve Cup and recently in a friendly against Canada, although this hasn't been the case in her WPS play. The goals haven't come easily so far in Chicago, but this is one player I would put money on for the future.

Nikki Krzysik-She started at center back for the Red Stars' first 7 games. More recently, she has lost her starting spot as Emma Hayes has opted for more experienced defenders in Natalie Spilger and Jill Oakes. Krzysik is a tough defender, who is strong and sure on headers. Her confidence benefitted by having Dalmy and Dieke on her sides and J├Ânsson behind her. She does not possess blazing speed and like many young American defenders, she can have trouble with fast attacking players at this level. Because of this, she will need to rely on good positioning and anticipation. Krzysik has given Chicago some solid minutes on the back line and should continue to contribute, in spite of the reduction in playing time.

Brittany Klein-Klein is not the most imposing player on the pitch, but she is certainly one of the most tenacious. She contributed strongly to Chicago's early defensive success. Klein played a great defensive game in the opener, helping to shut down Saint Louis. She followed that by having a great offensive game with a goal and two assists against Boston. She can play either defensive mid or can attack from central midfield. She makes extremely effective tackles from seemingly awkward defensive positions. Klein does a lot of the tough work in the middle of the field that sometimes goes unnoticed. She has started all 10 Red Star games to this point.

Natalie Spilger-The Stanford alum was the oldest player taken in the first 3 rounds. Spilger has played both the center and outside on defense for the Red Stars. She has been receiving more playing time recently after playing only 34 minutes in the first 6 games and has now earned the starting position at center back. Spilger is a steady player, who brings international club experience to the Red Stars. She is very sound at clearing the ball out of danger. She has really helped Chicago defense get through their past few games without Ifeoma Dieke.

Chioma Igwe-The Santa Clara product was a nice pick late in the 4th round. Igwe played more midfield in college, but most of her early WPS action was on the back line at outside left back. Lately, she has moved back to midfield. She shows great anticipation, often stepping in front of opposition passes. Igwe uses her body well to shield off defenders. When playing outside back, she tends not to go forward as much as her teammate Marian Dalmy does on the right side. There have been a few times that she seemed to underestimate her opponent's speed, but overall, she has played well.

Later Additions-The Red Stars added two free agents that were draft picks for other teams. Goalkeeper Jaimel Johnson was the last player taken in the draft and after being cut by Boston, she signed as a developmental keeper for Chicago. Johnson was an All-SEC performer at Tennessee. Former Clemson defender Lydia Vandenbergh was drafted by Saint Louis in the 10th round. She made their opening roster, but was waived when Athletica traded for Fletcher and Welsh. Chicago added her shortly thereafter. Neither Johnson nor Vandenbergh has seen playing time for Chicago.

It was definitely a tale of two drafts for Chicago. The Scott trade helped the Red Stars stockpile a lot of early picks and they did very well with them. Rapinoe is on the verge of becoming a great player if she stays healthy. Klein is a solid starter. Krzysik can be a good player, even though she has lost her starting job for the moment. Spilger is a very valuable player, as is Igwe who is very versatile. But after those players, there is nothing else. Out of their last six picks, only Igwe is still with the team. No other team got less out of the lower end of the draft. Branam is now starting for Sky Blue, but to be fair, she wouldn't be playing in Chicago.

So if I were grading this draft, it would be hard to assign one grade. They drafted well early, getting five players that have started a lot of matches for them. I think that the quality they got at the top of the draft outweighs not getting anything later on, but it would be hard to call this a great draft at this point. If Rapinoe turns out to be the player I think she is and Klein, Krzysik, and Igwe continue to develop, it could be a draft that will benefit the Red Stars for a long time.