NWSL 2023: Chicago Red Stars forge ahead following turbulent offseason

In 2022, the Chicago Red Stars began head coach Chris Petrucelli’s tenure with a second-place finish in the Central Division of the NWSL Challenge Cup.

The team finished the regular season with a 9-7-6 record, earning the sixth and final postseason spot. Its record seventh-straight postseason appearance came to a quick end with a 2-1 extra-time quarterfinal loss at the San Diego Wave.

Star forward Mallory Swanson led Chicago’s offense with 11 goals and six assists, while longtime Red Stars and U.S. women’s national team goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher and 2022 NWSL Best XI second team defender Tatum Milazzo helped the team record seven shutouts.

The Red Stars was one of the teams most affected by the recent NWSL player abuse scandal documented in the Yates Report. Former U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates finding of league-wide abuse, sexual coercion, and other examples of unprofessional behavior came after the Washington Post revealed multiple abuse allegations against Rory Dames. This offseason, the NWSL announced that Dames, who coached the Red Stars from 2011-2021, is one of four coaches permanently banned from the NWSL. In December, Red Stars owner Armin Whisler, who knew about the coach’s behavior but failed to intervene, announced that he was selling the team, which was fined $1.5 million for its transgressions.

Following one year on the Red Stars’ staff, assistant coaches Morinao Imaizumi and Fabrice Gautret departed for coaching positions with the Washington Spirit and North Carolina Courage, respectively. Chicago responded by hiring new assistant coach Ella Masar. The Illinois native, who served as an assistant coach for the Kansas City Current in 2022, returns to help coach the team she played for in 2013. Another past Red Star player, Michelle Lomnicki, received an offseason promotion to general manager after being the club’s associate general manager last year. 

Chicago also experienced a lot of player movement over the past few months. The club started the offseason by re-signing veteran forward Yuki Nagasato and defender Arin Wright. Milazzo earned a two-year contract extension with an option for a third year following a breakout season during which the Chicago area native played in every game, anchoring her team’s defense and contributing two goals and an assist. Her teammates, forward Ella Stevens, defenders Kayla Sharples and Bianca St-Georges and goalkeeper Emily Boyd, are returning as the club picked up their contract options. 

However, the team’s personnel losses were significant, starting with a few players now abroad. Defender Zoe Morse, who started all but one regular season game in her third NWSL season, signed with English club Brighton and Hove Albion in January, spurning Chicago’s new contract offer. The club permanently transferred forward Sarah Luebert to Liga MX Femenil Club America for an agreed upon fee. The 25-year-old played with the Mexican team on loan before returning to the Red Stars in June, playing in 15 matches and scoring her first NWSL regular season goa1. Midfielder Channing Foster is a free-agent and defender Mikenna McManus is on Icelandic club Throttur.

The Red Stars’ midfield looks vastly different this season due to its three veteran midfielders -- Morgan Gautrat, Vanessa DiBernardo and Danielle Colaprico -- all signing with other teams in the league’s first free-agency period. Gautrat and Dibernardo both signed with the Kansas City Current on two-year deals. Gautrat, a two-time World Cup winner with the U.S., spent five seasons in Chicago, contributing six goals and four assists over 83 appearances. Dibernardo, the former team captain who departed the Red Stars after nine seasons, is its leader in regular-season games played (155) and minutes played (12,465) and is second in assists (22). Lastly, Colaprico agreed to a two-year deal with the San Diego Wave. The 2015 Rookie of the Year played seven seasons in Chicago, featuring alongside Dibernardo in every Red Star playoff game.

In addition, 2021 starters Sarah Woldmoe and Kealia Watt are no longer on the team. Both new moms didn’t play last year due to pregnancy. Woldmoe is retired and Watt is a free-agent training to return to the field. Another free-agent forward Rachel Hill signed for two years with the San Diego Wave. In her three years with the Chicago Red Stars, she scored six goals in 102 games. 

Given all the defections, Lomnicki went to work finding players to fill in the gaps. To reinforce its attacking depth, forward Jenna Bike, who played in nine games with Gotham in 2022, signed with Chicago on a two-year contract with an option for 2025.

Chicago made four selections in the 2023 NWSL Draft. First, it chose forward Penelope Hocking with the seventh pick. Hocking played her final collegiate season at Penn State after becoming USC’s all-time leading goalscorer. The Red Stars proceeded to draft Hocking’s Penn State teammate forward Ally Schlegal. Then it addressed its midfield, selecting Oklahoma State midfielder Grace Yochum and Duke defensive midfielder Sophie Jones. Yochum was the only draftee who did not show up to preseason training and earn a team contract.

Further strengthening its depleted midfield, the club snagged Addie McCain off the waiver wire and then signed her to a two-year contract with an option for a third year. The third-year player appeared in 10 regular season and seven Challenge Cup games with the Current last year, scoring her first professional goal against Louisville in the Cup. Fellow new midfielder Julia Bianchi will provide defensive help. The Brazilian defensive midfielder joined Chicago on a two-year contract from Palmeiras where she played in 77 matches and won three championships. The 25-year-old has 11 caps for Brazil, including two at the Tokyo Olympics. While these two offer youthful potential, Cari Roccaro, who was acquired from Angel City in exchange for $65,000 allocation money, brings championship experience to the midfield. She was part of the Courage’s 2018 and 2019 champion teams and last year scored four goals in 21 games with Angel City.

These past few weeks of preseason training have been important for the Red Stars because the club has many new players to evaluate. On Feb. 18, they lost 3-2 to Racing Louisville in a closed scrimmage. Chicago then trained at Florida’s IMG Academy, where the team tied in a scrimmage against the Current and beat Gotham 3-1. Defenders Tierna Davidson and Casey Krueger both aiming to be ready for week one. Davidson is coming off an ACL injury, and Krueger is returning after missing last season due to pregnancy.

Chicago Red Stars Roster:
Goalkeepers (2): Emily Boyd, Alyssa Naeher.
Defenders (7): Tierna Davidson, Arin Wright, Casey Krueger, Tatumn Milazzo, Kayla Sharples, Bianca St-Georges, Amanda Kowalski.
Midfielders (6): Jill Aguilera, Julia Bianchi (Palmeiras, Brazil), Samantha Fisher, Addie McCain (KC Current), Cari Roccaro (Angel City FC), Sophie Jones (Duke Univ.).
Forwards (9): Jenna Bike (Gotham FC), Ava Cook, Sarah Griffith, Yuki Nagasato, Ella Stevens, Mallory Swanson, Ally Schlegal (Penn State Univ.), Penelope Hocking (Penn State Univ.).

1 comment about "NWSL 2023: Chicago Red Stars forge ahead following turbulent offseason".
  1. R2 Dad, March 22, 2023 at 11:03 a.m.

    May have been turbulent but could have been worse: https://www.espn.com/soccer/mexico-mexw/story/4907500/scarlett-camberos-leaves-america-due-to-safety-concerns-from-online-threatsjoins-angel-city-fc
     It's not safe for this woman in the entire country of Mexico--she had to come across the border to play for a NWSL team. But I don't think she will be safe even here. The mexican cartels are already here in the US, just not in your neighborhood yet.

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