December 19, 2009

Chicago Red Stars - The Offseason So Far

In the second installment on the WPS offseason, we'll take a look at the Chicago Red Stars.

When Last We Left Them...

The Chicago Red Stars finished in 6th place with 20 points and out of the playoffs. The season started promisingly enough with the Red Stars going 2-0-2 over their first 4 matches climaxing with a 4-0 trouncing of the Boston Breakers. But then, the wheels came off. Chicago managed just two goals over their next 9 games, which included scoring droughts of 396 and 451 minutes. They did manage 3 late season wins, including a 3-1 victory over Los Angeles.

Scoring was a major problem for the Red Stars as they tallied only 18 goals during the season, with 10 of those coming in just three games. Surprisingly after a great start defensively, earning shutouts in 3 of the first 4 matches, they gave up 24 goals over the last 16 matches and finished with the 3rd worst total in the league. Much of that can probably attributed to injuries on the back line. With Kate Markgraf returning to action in 2010, the Red Star defense appears to be in good shape for the coming season.

Roster Moves

Chicago instantly made offseason news by deciding to waive their 2010 options on several players, including Carli Lloyd and Cristiane, their leading scorer. Not surprisingly, Sky Blue signed Lloyd in October. Cristiane remains a free agent, but there is still the possibility that she could be back with the Red Stars in 2010. Also no longer with the team are Frida Östberg, who opted to retire, and Australian midfielder Heather Garriock, who was plagued by injuries for almost the entire 2009 season.

As far as acquisitions go, the Red Stars were pretty quiet early on. They did sign Oswego, Illinois native Julianne Sitch, who spent the 2009 season with the champion Sky Blue side. Sitch played several years for the Chicago W-League team and played her college soccer at DePaul. She started 11 matches for Sky Blue, scoring one goal. Sitch will provide some versatility to the Red Stars, as she can play both midfielder and defender. She has been sharpening her skills in the WPS offseason by playing for the Melbourne Victory of the Australian W-League where she has scored one goal as well.

December saw the Red Stars making two key international signings, tapping into European national teams. First came the signing of veteran English midfielder Katie Chapman of Arsenal. Chapman is a long-time member of the English National Team with 73 caps and 7 goals to her credit. She joins a talented Chicago midfield group which also includes her English teammate Karen Carney as well Megan Rapinoe and Brittany Klein.

The second signing was that of 20-year old Kosovare Asllani, a member of Linköpings FC and the Swedish National Team. The young forward debuted with the national team in 2008 and has scored 21 goals over the past two seasons in the Damallsvenskan. Asllani should bolster the Red Stars offense, but she will be hard pressed to replace Cristiane's 7 goals from 2009, unless the Brazilian forward re-signs with Chicago.

Current Roster

Goalkeepers (1)-Caroline Jönsson.
Defenders (6)-Marian Dalmy, Ifeoma Dieke, Chioma Igwe, Kate Markgraf, Jill Oakes, Natalie Spilger.
Midfielders (6)-Karen Carney, Katie Chapman, Brittany Klein, Megan Rapinoe, Julianne Sitch, Lindsay Tarpley (MF/F).
Forwards (2)-Kosovare Asllani, Ella Masar.

Additions-Asllani, Chapman, and Sitch.
Subtractions-Danesha Adams (drafted by Philadelphia), Nikki Krzysik (drafted by Philadelphia), Carli Lloyd (signed by Sky Blue).

Other Free Agents from 2009 roster-Cristiane, Heather Garriock, Jaimel Johnson, Mary Therese McDonnell, Frida Ostberg (retired), Lydia Vandenbergh, Michelle Wenino, Lydia Williams.
Internationals-Asllani, Carney, Chapman, and Jönsson with one slot open.
Draft Picks (in first 3 rounds)-Nos. 4, 15, and 24.

Needs to Address

With Cristiane being a free agent and Lindsay Tarpley coming off ACL surgery, scoring has to be priority one. Those two combined for 11 of the Red Stars' 18 goals last season, with Tarpley also leading the team in assists. The Red Stars were shut out in over half of their games last year and they can't afford a repeat of that performance. Ella Masar will be back with Chicago, but while Tarpley's rehab seems to be going well and the signing of Asllani is a great addition, I really think the Red Stars need another top scorer. Whether that means re-signing Cristiane or another international forward, or perhaps a top college scorer remains to be seen.

The second major need is a backup keeper. Last season, Caroline Jonsson played every minute of every game. She was very sharp early on, but later in the season, the onslaught of shots against her had to take their toll. Jonsson has just turned 32, not necessarily old for a keeper, but still it would be nice to groom somebody to be her replacement and this year's draft has several good candidates. It is unknown if Lydia Williams is still in the Red Stars' plans for the future.

The other area that Chicago might want to address is depth at midfield. With so many of their players being potential call ups for national team duty, it is likely that players like Rapinoe, Carney, Chapman, and Klein will miss several games. The signing of Sitch certainly addressed that problem, but more depth is never a bad thing to have.

The Red Stars were a bit of an enigma last year. They appeared to have all of the pieces of the puzzle and got off to a great start. But injuries hurt the team, as did a couple of red cards in matches against Washington. At times, it appeared that they offensively broke down into too much one-on-one play. I believe that in Rapinoe and Carney, they might possibly have two of the best young outside midfielders in the world. It certainly seems like this all should have translated into more than 5 victories. I have to believe that better things are ahead for this team in 2010, but there are some lingering questions that need to be addressed.