The Chicago Red Stars are in a season of loss.
The 2023 squad lost their veteran midfield corps to free Agency: Vanessa DiBernardo and Morgan Gautrat to Kansas City, and Danny Colaprico to San Diego. They lost attacking talent in Rachel Hill, Makenzy Doniak, and Katie Johnson to San Diego. They lost Kealia Watt to retirement.
And then the season started.
They lost Mal Swanson to injury. They lost their GM in yet another scandal They lost a league-high twelve matches. They lost their head coach with one game to play. They lost veteran forward and Jamaica WNT player Cheyna Matthews to retirement.
Amidst these losses came a glimmer of hope: The Laura Ricketts investment group. The Red Stars were sold in a historic 60 million dollar deal, that included $25 million in team investment. This landmark sale was a chance at a new beginning for the Red Stars in 2024.
The phoenix hasn’t yet risen from the ashes. Appointments to new positions have been slow, and far between. The Red Stars named Karen Leetzow, former Chief Legal Officer of US Soccer as team president in November. They found their new head coach in Lorne Donaldson, fresh off the Jamaica Women’s national team historic run. But the coaching staff is still bare bones, and the club has yet to announce a General Manager.
During this soft reboot, the free agency exodus unfortunately continued: Kayla Sharples to Bay FC, Tierna Davidson to the Gotham Super Team, Bianca St. Georges to North Carolina, and Casey Krueger to the Washington Spirit. “We did try to negotiate with players, but at the end of the day they preferred to take their careers elsewhere.” A Red Stars rep informed us. “We’re certainly sad to see them go, but this is the nature of free agency, and we wish them the best.”
Who could blame anyone for leaving this off-season? Why stay for a rebuild with no architect? The power of Free Agency means a player can decide to leave if a team is no longer serving their needs as a player. It ought to be a strong message to the new ownership group that even a the best intentions aren’t enough right now to attract and retain top talent.
Chicago has work to do to rebuild trust, and find their own identity. It will not be an easy journey. The Red Stars have yet to recover from losing their veteran midfield, and now must grapple with losing the majority of their veteran defending corps.
If Chicago fans can take one morsel of hope into the 2024 Draft this Friday, it’s having a new head coach with a track record of success in developing talent—something the Red Stars have in spades. Players like Penelope Hocking, Julia Bianchi, and Ally Schlegel could thrive under Donaldson’s tutelage. The team also holds the #3 pick in a talent-packed draft. Could they make a splash and go for the top spot? It’d be a welcomed dose of good news for the Chicago faithful.
The NWSL Draft is Friday, January 12 at 7PM central on ION. Chicago holds five picks: 3,17, 31, 41, and 45. You can find ION in your area here.