Bridgeview, IL (February 1, 2010): After several attempts to reach Chicago Red Stars General Manager Marcia McDermott, we were able to connect and get commentary on some question marks relative to personnel moves during the off season.
The questions we raised with her were the same raised in our previous articles relative to the draft, trades and signings.
First question: When did the club decide not to re-sign keeper Caroline Jonsson, and was it due to a disappointment in her performance?
McDermott stressed that management was not disappointed in Jonsson's performance. However, Jonsson wanted to resume education in her native Sweden, and had an opportunity to play professionally there while attending school. The decision to release her was made in consensus with Jonsson soon after the end of the past season. I asked again if she was just being diplomatic, since some fans and members of the media, including this writer, had expressed misgivings about Jonsson's inconsistency. But the response was the same: Jonsson is no longer with the club because she wanted to return home and resume her education.
Second question: Was the re-siginng of Brazilian striker (pictured above) Cristiane (after failing to sign the free agent when options were exercised) an adjustment to compensate for the departure of Lindsay Tarpley? Cristiane had been the club's leading scorer in the inaugural season, and Tarpley had been number two.
McDermott states, "We were always operating with the assumption that Cris would be a part of our organization. We were just waiting for things to fall into place." At the same time, she added, "Lindsay was hard to let go. She was key to our club in any number of ways. But we needed a starting goalie." She went on to say that not only is Jill Loyden starting material on the pitch, she is known for being extremely involved in the community for charitable causes and as an ambassador for soccer.
No surprise here, Ms. McDermott refused to mention names when she was asked which players were most at risk, either for making the club or making the starting 11. She did say that she felt good about the talent added to the team during the off season and expected it to be "a very competitive situation" from the top to the bottom of the roster. Making the roster will also be extremely competitive, given the quality players that were added.
Looking ahead to the upcoming season, Kate Markgraf, one of the club's original National Team allocations who missed last season due to maternity leave, is expected to report to training camp in game condition. "We'll benefit from having her size and talent in the middle of the backfield," McDermott said. Markgraf's absence was considered by many to be much of the reason for frequent defensive lapses during the club's first season.
When asked who of the new players is expected to make the biggest impact, it was no surprise that McDermott first mentioned Chicago's first draft pick (No. 4 overall) Whitney Engen, said to be the best defender taken in the draft. The club expects Engen will provide additional strength and size on the back line.
Other names mentioned in the most impact category were English Midfielder Katie Chapman, newly acquired in the international draft, and Julianne Sitch, acquired in a trade from Sky Blue FC for midfielder Carli Lloyd. Jackie Santacaterino was also mentioned.
McDermott went on to say she expected everyone who makes the squad to play a vital role. Even those at the bottom of the bench have a great potential to contribute down the line, if not this season.
We were also curious about venues. As great a venue as Toyota Park is, one could use the term "cavernous" in describing its size relative to the Red Stars crowds in the first season. Capacity at Toyota Park is just over 21,000 and the Red Stars averaged in the 5,000 range, with a season high (also a league high) of just under 8,000 for the season finale.
The construction of a stadium designed specifically for WPS in Atlanta raises the question of whether the Red Stars will be seeking a different, smaller venue, either by construction or more likely by adapting an existing facility; such as Benedictine University, where the Red Stars played an exhibition match versus Ireland last season. The question was posed, not only from a perspective of scale, but also from a financial consideration.
McDermott praised Toyota Park as a beautiful and fan-friendly facility and said the Red Stars will play there for the upcoming season. When asked about subsequent years, she simply answered, "We'll be at Toyota Park this year."
The final two questions had to do with the dissolution of the Los Angeles Sol...what most had considered the league's premier club until the news broke that its owners, AEG, had given the team back to the league and a new owner could not be found in time to be ready for next season.
Regarding the dissolution draft (reallocation of Los Angeles players under contract), McDermott would not even tip her cards.
Knowing that the league's second best goal keeper (Karina LeBlanc) will be a part of that draft raises the question of whether Chicago might try to deal Loyden to acquire rights to LeBlanc. On the other hand, Los Angeles' best weapons are offensive. Ms. McDermott, however, did not add any insight.
"We're the fourth pick. It's hard to know who'll be available. I'm not going to comment on strategy."
Given the Red Stars' poor offensive production last season, it is suspected that their dissolution picks will be on the front line and not the goal box.
Finally, I asked McDermott what, if anything, should be read into the folding of the LA franchise, relative to overall league strength. What she did not say is that the league is as solid as a rock and isn't going anywhere. What she did say is that the expansion franchises are solid, the new WPS specific stadium in Atlanta is a strong sign of life, and the six original teams remaining have strong commitments from their ownership to carry on.