2014 NWSL season preview – Chicago Red Stars: With that same old crowd that’s always been around

Michael Chang

Flashy has never been Chicago's style on the field, and with one notable exception, that's been the Red Stars' style off the field too. But keeping things the same may be the best thing that Chicago could have done in the offseason. Well, that, and singing Christen Press.

The Red Stars finished 2013 kind of exactly where you'd expect them to: right in the middle of the table. Chicago were never the flashiest team, but they wouldn't bore you either, with a penchant for stealing games late and at the very least always making things a little interesting. And so, in a lot of ways, Chicago's offseason moves have been sort of perfectly Chicago -- minimal and not flashy. The Red Stars kept a large chunk of their 2013 roster, but they also made a few additions that could make 2014 anything but typically Chicago.

Head Coach: Rory Dames, second season

Where we left off: Chicago finished 2013 in sixth, with an 8-8-6 record.

Canadian Swap: After sending goalkeeper Erin McLeod to Houston in exchange for forward and fellow Canadian Melissa Tancredi, the Red Stars were in the market for a new goalkeeper -- so why not pick up the one that just won the inaugural NWSL Championship? In January, Chicago grabbed Karina LeBlanc from Portland in exchange for a second round pick in the 2015 draft. That's it. LeBlanc, a veteran goalkeeper, for one second round pick. Portland had Germany's Nadine Angerer waiting in the wings, making LeBlanc expendable, and the Red Stars ended up with a pretty nice bargain for a very good goalkeeper. Chicago also kept backup Taylor Vancil, who made six appearances in 2013. So how much will things change from a year ago when McLeod was in goal? Probably not much, except that LeBlanc is perhaps a bit more vocal than her Canadian National Team counterpart, which could be a good thing for a Chicago defense that's not always the most organized.

Yeah, about that defense...: It's pretty much exactly the same as a year ago. The Red Stars added local product Kecia Morway, but otherwise, not much has changed. Rachel Quon, Michello Wenino, Taryn Hemmings and Jackie Santacaterina are all back for a second season. Which makes the Red Stars seem kind of boring compared to some other NWSL teams with their fancy roster retooling and splashy signings. But the Red Stars were never the most organized team defensively, and that boringness is also stability; Chicago's back four comes into 2014 having already played a full season together while some other defenses are maybe still trying to learn each other's names.

Thank you, Leslie Osborne: This one will be a real shocker, but, Chicago's midfield is ... also almost exactly the same. With one notable exception. Veteran defender and World's Nicest Person Leslie Osborne decided to hang up her boots after the 2013 season, officially announcing her retirement in early March. Osborne's presence, both as a calming figure and hard-nosed midfielder, will certainly be missed in Chicago and the soccer world in general, but the Red Stars still have plenty of both of those traits in what's left. Because almost nothing else has changed. You want a calming, veteran presence? Lori Chalupny is back. You want hard-nosed? Alyssa Mautz. Julianne Sitch and Zakiya Bywaters also return for the Red Stars. Chicago did make two additions in the middle of the park in Julie Johnston and Vanessa DiBernardo. Both are first round picks with impressive college and Youth National Team résumés. Johnston -- who's spent most of her college and YNT career as a defender, but is listed on the Red Stars roster as a midfielder -- also earned two caps for the senior USWNT under Tom Sermanni.

Christen Press: This is where Rory Dames went totally crazy. Like, of the five forwards on the Red Stars roster, only two were previously with the team kind of crazy. The two returning players, Jen Hoy and Canadian international Adriana Leon, will be joined by rookie Hayley Brock, newly allocated but veteran Canadian international Melissa Tancredi and newly allocated U.S. international Christen Press. The signing of Press is literally the flashiest thing the Red Stars have ever done, ever, outside of "have you seen the 2014 home shirts? They have stripes!" Press has scored buckets of goals wherever she's played (for magicJa..nope, can't) in her rookie season in WPS, when she was also named the league's Rookie of the Year; for Swedish side Tyreso FF, where she netted 23 goals en route to becoming the first American to ever win the Damallsvenskan's Golden Boot; for the USWNT, where she has 12 goals in 20 appearances. It's a huge addition for a Red Stars team that's never been particularly high scoring, and one that could be the difference between another middle-of-the-table season and a chance at the top four.

In conclusion: Aside from the signing of Press, the Chicago Red Stars of 2014 are pretty much the Chicago Red Stars of 2013. It's boring, yes, but it's also stability. And because of that, it's probably the best thing Rory Dames could have done for his team this offseason: almost nothing at all.

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