NWSL Preview: Chicago Red Stars Ready to Host Seattle Reign and Former Arsenal Ladies Manager Laura Harvey
The Chicago Red Stars are set to open their inaugural National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) season against first-year team Seattle Reign FC on Sunday, April 14th at 5pm at Village of Lisle-Benedictine University Sports Complex.
There is a wide range of experience and cohesion on this Red Stars squad, including the talents of co-captains Lori Chalupny and Leslie Osborne, who have had chemistry in the midfield together since their teenage years up to their time with the U.S. National Team. Defender Carmelina Moscato is comfortable in her role protecting starting goalkeeper Erin McLeod; both have played together on the Canadian National Team and at Penn State University.
Much of last year’s core of players from the Red Stars WPSL-Elite team has returned including Lauren Fowlkes, Ella Masar, Alyssa Mautz, Jackie Santacaterina, Julianne Sitch and Michelle Wenino.
Coming off of four straight pre-season victories, the team is meshing together nicely despite some late arrivals. Mexican National Team allocations Maribel Dominguez and Dinora Garza attended their first training on Wednesday afternoon, and three-time Olympic Gold medalist and USWNT-allocated player Shannon Boxx arrived to her first training with the team on Thursday.
The long tenured experience of international superstar Dominguez will pair nicely with Garza, who has made 35 international appearances and scored nine goals since her time with the First Team in 2011. Their partnership up top and in midfield, respectively, should eventually work out well once head coach Rory Dames feels they're ready to play.
Dames returns after leading the previous Red Stars team to two league finals and the U.S. National Cup Championship in 2012. He's anticipating a strong match- up between his team and Seattle Reign. "They have a very high level coach with a lot of experience as a championship winning team in England's top flight," said Dames. "I'm sure it will be a battle for 90 minutes."
Seattle wasted no time appointing Laura Harvey as their head coach. Harvey came to Seattle in January of 2013 having won three league titles with Arsenal Ladies, England's top women's club team.
Arsenal has historically been at the top of the table in English women's football, with 38 major trophies. In 2009-10, Harvey assumed the role of manager mid way through the season and led the team to the Women's Premier League Title. In 2011, Harvey and the Arsenal Ladies won the FA WSL title, FA Cup, and Continental Cup. In 2012, Arsenal went undefeated with Harvey at the helm, scoring a league-high 39 goals in 14 matches while allowing 18.
Dames is operating under the assumption that Seattle's team will hold themselves to similar expectations of the Arsenal squad led by Harvey for the last three years. Citing players in particular, "they have a great player in Keelin Winters," said Dames." Winters originally was set for the Chicago midfield, but a deal between the Red Stars and Seattle saw her move west in exchange for Seattle's first round draft pick in the 2014 NWSL Draft, along with future considerations.
Another player to watch on Reign's squad is midfielder Teresa Noyola. The Mexican international and former Stanford star joins the team upon return from her time at the Algarve Cup, and the 2011 Hermann Trophy winner and former US youth international will be with the Reign for the first game in Chicago. Seattle also has defender Kate Deines, a Washington native and fan favorite from Issaquah, WA, who played for Sounders Women of the USL W-League with current teammates Hope Solo and Megan Rapinoe.
Both Solo and Rapinoe are currently unavailable for the season opener but are expected to re-join the team later this summer. Solo recently underwent surgery on her wrist and Rapinoe is currently on loan to Lyon, a top club in France's Ligue 1. National teamer Amy Rodriguez was also allocated with Solo and Rapinoe, but is not participating this season after an announcement that she will be expecting her first child.
Like Seattle, Chicago has seen a majority of its pre-season without some key players. The Red Stars were dealt an early blow with the news that U.S. National Team defender and Gold medalist Amy LePeilbet would miss the season after having reconstructive knee surgery in February. Supplemental draft pick and two-time Olympic Gold medalist Lindsay Tarpley is continuing rehab on a previous knee injury and is expected to join the team in the coming months. Remember that Boxx, Garza, and Dominguez have only arrived with the team a few days ahead of the opener.
Unlike Seattle, the Red Stars spent their pre-season entirely in the US, including a week in Austin, Texas, while the Reign recently returned from a preseason camp where they played three games against top teams in Japan, going 2-1 in those matches.
Red Stars co-captain Leslie Osborne says that opportunity only enhances their team chemistry and cohesion.
Osborne thinks Seattle’s Japan trip provided an invaluable bonding experience for their team. "They will be coming here having enhanced their team chemistry after traveling to Japan together, and they've had experience playing against international teams in top flight ahead of the season,” said Osborne. “They'll be going into this game with a chip on their shoulders and a point to prove - kind of like us - after being without some of their key players as a regular part of their squad."
But these elements will make for an exciting season opener for both teams. "They are a really good opponent for a home opener,” said Osborne. "We're not worrying about other teams, though. Our pre-season has been progressive; we have a core foundation. We’ve connected and bonded on and off the field. We're focused on working hard and winning."
Kim Tate is a sports publicist and correspondent for Football.com, and will cover the entire NWSL season. Follow on Twitter @KimTateSports