April 7, 2010

Chicago Red Stars 2010 - Enigmatic Stars Go Young

Coach: Emma Hayes
2009 Record: 5-10-5 (6th place)
Postseason: Out of the playoffs.

Returnees (10): Karen Carney, Cristiane, Marian Dalmy, Ifeoma Dieke, Brittany Klein, Kate Markgraf, Ella Masar, Megan Rapinoe, Natalie Spilger, Lydia Vandenbergh.
Draft Choices (5): Whitney Engen, Jessica McDonald, Kelsey Davis, Michelle Weissenhofer, Jackie Santacaterina.
LA Dispersal Draft (1): Casey Nogueira.
International Signings ( 3): Kosovare Asllani, Katie Chapman, Formiga.
Free Agents (1): Julianne Sitch.
Trades (1): Jillian Loyden.

Of all WPS teams last season, the Red Stars were the one team I couldn’t figure out. They just looked like they should have been better. How can a team with Cristiane, Rapinoe, Tarpley, Carney, Lloyd, and Masar have trouble scoring? Twice this team went nearly 400 minutes without scoring a goal and they were shut out 11 times.

Chicago seems to be going to a youth movement, with 5 draft picks plus Casey Nogueira from the dispersal draft and international signee Kosovare Asllani joining the Red Stars. The exceptions were the signings of former Gold Pride midfielder Formiga and English international Katie Chapman. Chicago will also welcome back Kate Markgraf, who missed all of last season. With Lloyd and Tarpley gone, it means that Chicago is the only team that never had their 3 USWNT allocations on the field at the same time.

Goalkeeping-The Red Stars made a bold move prior to the January draft, trading USWNT player Lindsay Tarpley to Saint Louis for Jillian Loyden. Loyden’s stock has risen rapidly over the past 12 months. First, she won the backup role to Hope Solo in Saint Louis and shut out 2 of 3 opponents she faced in 2009. Then, she ventured to Australia where she won the W-League Goalkeeper of the Year. Since then, she has made the US National Team as a backup. To solidify the goalkeeper position, Chicago drafted Kelsey Davis out of the University of Portland. Davis has experience on US junior teams and should provide the Red Stars with a quality backup. At press time, the Red Stars didn't have a developmental keeper.

Defenders- The Red Stars started 2009 as one of the best defensive teams in WPS, shutting out 3 of their first 4 opponents. However, they didn’t post a shutout in the 2nd half of the season and this is certainly one area that needed improvement. The return of Kate Markgraf should go a long way in doing that. Markgraf, a USWNT veteran, missed the entire ’09 season. She is a solid, experienced defender who will anchor Chicago’s back line.

The second key addition is Whitney Engen. Engen was considered to be the top defender in college soccer last fall at UNC. The Red Stars also return Marian Dalmy, Ifeoma Dieke, and Natalie Spilger. Dalmy is a tall outside back who has some experience on the US National Team. Dieke has good speed and plays internationally for Scotland. Stanford grad Spilger played well last season in 13 starts. The Red Stars also return developmental back, Lydia Vandenbergh, who bolstered her playing experience with a stint in the Aussie W-League last fall. The additions of Markgraf and Engen should make this a top notch defensive group.

Midfielders-If you look at Chicago’s 2009 midfield group, there appeared to be a lot of talent, but it rarely translated into goals. Of that group, Carli Lloyd is no longer with the Red Stars. The returnees are Karen Carney, Megan Rapinoe, and Brittany Klein. Klein was finally recognized for her strong play, being named to the '09 all-star team. Certainly one of the smallest midfielders in the league, Klein’s not afraid to mix it up and she always has an impressive work rate. Carney and Rapinoe may be two of the most talented young wing players in the world, but 2009 saw limited output for the duo, a combined 4 goals and 4 assists. Although Carney is recovering from injury, expect to see a lot better results from the two this season. Both are very good 1 v. 1 players that can break down opposing defenses.

The two major additions in the midfield both come from the international ranks. Chicago added English international Katie Chapman and former Gold Pride midfielder Formiga. The Brazilian star struggled through a 2009 season which saw her hobbled by injuries toward the end of the season and missing the all-star game. She still has the ability to make players around her better and I expect her to rebound with a strong 2010 season, once her visa problems are solved. Chapman has 76 caps for the English National Team and just scored the game winner in a match against Spain. Chicago area native Julianne Sitch and Illinois alum Jackie Santacaterina will provide depth here as well as on the back line.

Forwards-The Red Stars signed 20-year old striker, Kosovare Asllani, from Sweden to improve Chicago’s offensive output. Asllani scored 12 goals for Link√∂pings last season and she will be counted on to do more of the same with the Red Stars. Her forward running mates will be Cristiane, who scored 7 goals last season (and was the only Red Star to score between April 25 and July 1) and Ella Masar who spent most of ’09 as a reserve, adding two assists.

A trio of forwards from the college ranks will provide depth. Casey Nogueira had a knack for scoring clutch goals for North Carolina and hopes to be a spark for the Red Stars. Another former UNC player, Jessica McDonald, was Chicago’s 2nd round selection. Together, Nogueira and McDonald were UNC’s top two goal scorers last fall. Another Chicago area native, Michelle Weissenhofer of Naperville and Notre Dame, adds further depth at forward.

Summary-Certainly, the Red Stars would like to forget last season. The back line was troubled with injuries, the offense was anemic, they suffered two red cards, and they finished 6th. The injection of young talent, with a sprinkling of older veterans could be a move in the right direction, although the team will certainly miss a respected veteran in Lindsay Tarpley.

If everyone plays to their potential and the team gels, this could be a very good team. There is a lot of room for improvement over last year’s squad. The Red Stars will be tested very quickly as they open on the road against defending WPS Champions Sky Blue FC and their former teammate, Carli Lloyd.