With new ownership and a slate of fresh faces, the Chicago Red Stars face an important task when they play their NWSL season opener Saturday: redefinition.
This is a new chapter for the Red Stars after a tumultuous two years dominated by the fallout of reports of the abuse and toxicity perpetuated by former coach Rory Dames and former owner Arnim Whisler, both of whom were forced out of the league. The resulting offseason saw a massive turnover of longtime players such as Sarah Gorden, Danielle Colaprico, Morgan Gautrat and Vanessa DiBernardo.
But the Red Stars hope to return the focus fully to the pitch, and it’s clear who will lead that charge — electric goal scorer Mallory Swanson (nee Pugh).
Expectations have been raised for Swanson as she continues to develop into one of the premier scorers in the game. The striker enters the season on a hot streak after scoring seven goals in five appearances to start the year for the U.S. national team.
The Red Stars offense will have to contend with the loss of firepower when Swanson heads to New Zealand and Australia for the World Cup at the end of June. But even with that gap, Swanson is a front-runner for the Golden Boot award, given to the top goal scorer in the league.
After a first-round exit from the NWSL playoffs last season under first-year coach Chris Petrucelli, the Red Stars are well-positioned to improve with Swanson as the centerpiece of the attack.
Alyssa Naeher: Few players have been as consistent for club and country as Naeher, a seven-year Red Stars veteran goalkeeper who remains a focal point. The Red Stars might need to operate without their star goalie for as long as two months this summer as Naeher leads the U.S. national team in the World Cup. But when she is between the posts, the Red Stars are one of the hardest teams to score on in the league.
Tierna Davidson: One of the most promising young defenders in the league — and the U.S. national team pool — Davidson was sidelined last season after tearing an ACL in March 2022. Petrucelli said she is expected to available for the opener, which will begin a critical stretch of the NWSL season as she works to reestablish herself at the head of the Red Stars defense and earn back her position on the U.S. roster in time for the World Cup in July.
Casey Krueger: A mainstay of the Red Stars back line and a familiar face for U.S. national team fans, Krueger missed the 2022 season while she was pregnant with her son Caleb. She’ll look to make this season her comeback tour alongside Davidson.
The midfield is the biggest question mark for the Red Stars this season following the departures of veterans Colaprico, Gautrat and DiBernardo.
Previous Red Stars teams cornered their success around the continuity between this trio. Previous midfields paired consistent holding abilities on the defensive end with a sharp vision for the attack. But this season’s team will have to rebuild that identity around new personnel.
Brazilian midfielder Julia Bianchi, a 25-year-old defensive midfielder who signed a two-year deal this offseason, will lead the group. She will be paired with Cari Roccaro, a 28-year-old acquired in a trade with Angel City after starting 20 of 21 games last season.
The unit also will be aided by the positionless nature of attackers such as Swanson and Yūki Nagasato, who often float from box-to-box to adapt their role to the need of the game.
The Red Stars signed their 2023 NWSL draftees — Penelope Hocking, Ally Schlegel and Sophie Jones. The three will be an important building block as the Red Stars focus on developing young talent.
Hocking: The seventh pick in the draft, Hocking broke the program scoring record at USC with 54 goals before transferring to Penn State, where she had seven goals and 11 assists in 23 appearances in her senior season. Hocking scored against Racing Louisville and Gotham FC during preseason scrimmages. She signed a three-year contract with an option for a fourth year.
Schlegel: Selected in the second round with the 23rd pick, Schlegel also is a Penn State product who logged 47 goals and 20 assists with the Nittany Lions. She signed a three-year contract with an option for a fourth year.
Jones: The 43rd pick, Jones is a versatile midfielder who started 75 matches in her Duke career. She was named a second-team All-American in 2022. Jones signed a two-year contract.
Saturday: The Red Stars will begin the NWSL season with a road game against the San Diego Wave.
April 1: The home opener is against the Houston Dash at SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview.
April 8: The Red Stars will host the Mexican national team as part of the MexTour W, which will include a stop in Houston. The exhibition game will give fans the opportunity to see the Red Stars face off against Mexican stars such as captain Kenti Robles,
May 3: The 2023 Challenge Cup — a midseason tournament designed to partially fill the absence created by World Cup athletes reporting to New Zealand and Australia — will kick off for the Red Stars with a road game against the Dash. The Red Stars also will host Racing Louisville (May 31), the Kansas City Current (July 29) and Dash (Aug. 5) and play the Current (June 14) and Louisville (July 21) in the tournament.
June 25: The Red Stars will play Gotham FC in the last game before U.S. women’s national team players are required to report to camp for the World Cup. This likely will mean the departures of Swanson and Naeher and could include Davidson.
Oct. 15: The Red Stars’ regular season ends with a home game against OL Reign.
Nov. 11: Date of the NWSL championship game.
Goalkeepers (2): Emily Boyd, Alyssa Naeher.
Defenders (6): Tierna Davidson, Amanda Kowalski, Casey Krueger, Tatumn Milazzo, Kayla Sharples (SEI), Bianca St-Georges, Arin Wright.
Midfielders (6): Jill Aguilera, Julia Bianchi (International Player), Samantha Fisher, Sophie Jones, Taylor Malham, Addie McCain, Cari Roccaro.
Forwards (8): Jenna Bike, Ava Cook, Chelsie Dawber, Sarah Griffith, Penelope Hocking, Yuki Nagasato (International Player), Ally Schlegel, Ella Stevens, Mallory Swanson.
The NWSL season will be streamed domestically on Paramount+ and via Twitch for international viewers. Three select games will be available on broadcast television through CBS Sports Network: March 25 against the San Diego Wave, Sept. 3 versus the Washington Spirit and Sept. 17 versus Angel City.