The Chicago Red Stars finished the inaugural season of Women's Professional Soccer (WPS) seeing red. Their second to last place finish mimicked nothing of the team that started unbeaten in its first four weeks of play.
With the 2010 WPS Draft having concluded last Friday, it seems that Emma Hayes, the coach of the Red Stars, is hoping to breathe some fresh air into the potential-packed organization, hone in on the Stars' weaknesses, and pull this careening Chicago team out of the red.
Taking a look at last year, after starting the season at the top of the charts with a 2-0-2 record, the Red Stars took a plunge in week five with a loss to Sky Blue FC. They never fully rebounded after that, going 0-6-3 after April 25th. Their nine game winless streak was bested only by FC Gold Pride’s 10 game winless streak later in the summer and pushed the Red Stars towards the bottom of the WPS standings for most of the season.
It’s not that the Red Stars didn’t have the talent both in the back or up front, it was the fact that the Red Stars could not execute the one technique so crucial to winning a soccer match—putting the ball in the back of the net.
If you followed the WPS season at all last year, you will perhaps know the Red Stars best for notably going 308 minutes without scoring a goal early in the season. History repeated itself when the Red Stars went on to best their own record with a gut-wrenching nine game, 451 minute scoreless streak, starting on June 7th that didn't end until a July 1st come-from-behind win against the Washington Freedom. Cristiane and Lindsey Tarpley ended up scoring both goals in that game to end the scoreless drought.
As the foundation of the Red Stars' offense, the fleet-footed Brazilian and National Team forward led the Red Stars in goals, with seven and four respectively. Cristiane's seven goals tied her for fifth in the league and her stunning three-goal hat trick performance against FC Gold Pride is keeping Chicago's hopes alive for a spark up top.
But, the nominee for FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year is now a free-agent that the Red Stars are still hoping to sign and Tarpley is off to the Saint Louis Athletica. The two-time Olympic gold medalist forward was acquired in a trade announced prior to the 2010 WPS Draft, which sent Athletica backup goalkeeper Jillian Loyden to Chicago in exchange for the U.S. Soccer's Female Athlete of the Decade. An interesting last minute trade that was necessary after the Red Stars were forced to drop Swedish goalkeeper Caroline Jonsson.
The anchor of the Red Stars' defense, Jonsson, notched four shutouts on the year and led the league in saves. She was not able to work around her school schedule back in Sweden and could not commit to another season with the Red Stars. It is a very unfortunate loss for Chicago and may account for Hayes' first round draft pick decision.
With all the scoring woes the Red Stars experienced in their inaugural season, I at first found it odd that Hayes used her first pick to draft UNC Tar Heels' defender Whitney Engen. Though a valuable player, who brings experience and staunch defending to the team, Engen is obviously not a scoring machine and on a whole, the Red Stars need to focus on their scoring issue.
Statistically, while being scored on 25 times during the season, they could only find the back of the net 18 times in 20 games, good for a fifth place tie in the league in offense. However, with Jonsson's departure, I understand that the Red Stars need to boost their back line, currently commanded by Marian Dalmy on the outside and Kate Markgra (who will hopefully return from giving birth to twins in 2009) in the center. “We needed a defender,” said head coach Emma Hayes, in the article “Dan Lauletta’s League Lowdown: The emotions of draft day”, posted on the WPS website, “I think Whitney Engen is what our team needed. We needed another leader at the back. She’s the best defender of this class. I think it’s the right player.”
Hayes passed over Casey Noguiera, a UNC Tar Heels forward, whom I thought was a better first round draft pick. Noguiera, a member of the U23 National Team was ACC Athlete of the Year in 2008 and led the nation in goals last year with 25. But, according to Hayes, although she liked Noguiera, the Red Stars simply needed a defender. Engen, who won the 2010 Honda Sports Award in soccer, making her the top female athlete in her sport, also scored one goal in the 2009 season and had three assists.
Taking Jonsson's departure into account, I can accept Hayes' first round draft pick. Furthermore, looking at the rest of Chicago’s picks, which are all either midfielders or forwards and one goalkeeper, I can find the Red Stars' drafting of Engen a bit more reasonable.
For Chicago’s second round draft pick (15th overall), they choose UNC forward Jessica McDonald, who during her junior season in 2009, was second on the Tar Heels team with nine goals, and 24 points in 26 games. She started in 17 of the team’s final 18 games as the Tar Heels won an NCAA Championship.
This is a pick that I find a lot more attractive for the Red Stars (and on a side note, it would have been interesting to see how McDonald and Nogueira would have worked as teammates up top for Chicago). McDonald will bring the UNC caliber play and fire to the front lines that Chicago will need in order to start scoring goals.
I think the X factor for the Red Stars is finding a player who can compliment Cristiane and create a one-two punch for the goal-depraved squad. University of Notre Dame forward Michele Weissenhofer, Columbia University Midfielder Sophie Reiser, University of San Francisco forward Fiona O’Sullivan, and University of Illinois midfielder Jackie Santacaterina, rounded out the Red Stars' picks and will all have chances to compete on offense.
With the goalkeeper situation a bit up in the air and Hayes scrambling to piece together a solid back line in Jonsson's wake, it was unfortunate that she couldn’t concentrate more on her offense. I wish the Red Stars had picked up Nogueira, but I understand Hayes' decision to fill in some of the major gaps. We’ll just have to see how the season plays out and what kind of fire the Stars can bring come April to propel them out of the red.
For a complete rundown of the Chicago Red Stars' draft picks, as well as player bios, check out the link to the article on the WPS website.