Category Archives: Chicago Red Stars

Spirit Finish Homestand on a High Note

Spirit forward Francisca Ordega is determined to fill the gap left by Crystal Dunn.

Spirit forward Francisca Ordega is determined to fill the gap left by Crystal Dunn.

After a strong 4-0-1 start, it’s been a question of which Washington Spirit team will show up: the one that shut down the Orlando Pride, or the one that gave up two goals to a struggling Sky Blue team? After two shaky performances, tonight it was the former, as Washington came out with energy and enthusiasm, scored an early goal, and put away the rival Chicago Red Stars, 2-0.

The win officially puts the Spirit in third place in the standings, but in terms of points earned per game played, they’re tops in the league.

The first goal came in the 20th minute, Christine Nairn feeding the ball to an onrushing Estefania Banini. Banini did a give-and-go with Francisca Ordega that got her to the left corner of the six-yard box, and she sent the ball just inside the right post from there. Meanwhile, despite being a little sloppy at times and turning the ball over, Washington was passing the ball around well.
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NWSL: Undefeated homestand with two comeback wins puts Spirit on verge of playoff spot

Yael Averbuch took a long time to make her presence felt, but when she finally did, it really counted.

Yael Averbuch took a long time to make her presence felt, but when she finally did, it really counted.

Go figure the Spirit. A couple of weeks ago with a golden chance for points against weaker teams, they went to Houston and played to an uninspired draw, followed by an embarrassing loss in New Jersey that was 4-0 late in the game until Washington rebounded with two late goals. Some fans were about to give up on the team’s playoff hopes, even wondering how much the players really wanted to make the playoffs.

But maybe they just wanted to do it the hard way. They returned home for three matches against playoff-contending teams and got points out of all three: a draw against Portland followed by comeback wins against Kansas City and Chicago – all three secured by late goals, the last in the waning seconds of stoppage time.

And if you want to see a team that wants to make the playoffs, just look at the replay of that goal. Diana Matheson runs all out for forty yards to chase down a ball before it can go out-of-bounds, then has to slide to keep it in. (“There’s maybe three players in the league that have that thought process and that quality,” said Chicago head coach Rory Dames admiringly.) She then passes it into the box to Lisa De Vanna. De Vanna – one of the most volatile and emotional players I’ve ever seen on the field – corks her emotions and hangs onto the ball until Yael Averbuch comes open to her left, then passes it to her. Finally, Averbuch – a player who’s been as much detriment as benefit to the team so far this year despite her allocated status – instead of launching a field goal sends in a rocket of a shot perfectly aimed into the upper left corner, out of the reach of a leaping Karina LeBlanc.

Late heroics have been a hallmark of the team, though. They’ve scored four goals in stoppage time, and every single one of them has been good for standings points: for a tie against Sky Blue on May 21, a win against Houston on May 26, a tie after twice being down two goals to Boston on July 2, and then Averbuch’s shot for the win. If NWSL matches ended strictly at 90 minutes, the Spirit would have 28 standings points and be in 5th place instead of 3rd.
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WPSL Elite: The Show Must Go On; At Least It Should

The Chicago Red Stars enjoyed a big crowd against Western New York on July 14, but had to forfeit a game just five days later when they couldn't make it to New England.

“Do or do not. There is no try.” – Yoda

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. – My first year coaching high school soccer, we were matched up with a clearly inferior team that was, unfortunately for them, inferior to just about everyone they played that season. They would soon be moved to a league where they could be more competitive, but on this day, the rookie coach (a.k.a. me) spent most of the second half figuring out how to manage the final scoreline.

I emptied the bench, switched positions, but still the score made it to nine, a total that is embarrassing to look back on, honestly. A few minutes before the end, a girl who had never scored before found herself alone on goal, and almost sheepishly poked the ball in. There was no applause, just silence. 10-0 was the final.

I met with the Athletic Director the next day and tried to plead my case: it was an accident, I was unprepared, I didn’t expect it to get that bad. He – being one of the finest people I’ve worked for and a former coach at many levels – cut me off. “It doesn’t really matter how it happened, it happened, and it makes us look bad. When they look in the newspaper, people are going to see the score. That’s it. Don’t let it happen again, please.”

Which brings us to the Chicago Red Stars and last Thursday’s game with New England.

Most of you reading this know by now that Chicago was forced to forfeit that game when they couldn’t make it to Massachusetts in time due to delayed and cancelled flights.

The intent here is not to kill the Red Stars (New England’s Ciara McCormack took a few shots at them in her blog already), who agreed to play in WPSL Elite this season despite the geographic trouble of playing in an east coast league. I met Arnim Whisler (whose responses you see in McCormack’s blog) two weeks ago in Chicago, and I can say with complete confidence that women’s soccer in this country needs people like Whisler and the market of Chicago. The Red Stars have been great for WPSL Elite, and should be great in whatever the league morphs into next season.

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WPSL Elite: Does The Regular Season Title Mean Anything To You?

LISLE, Ill. – Perspective, like beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder, so when suddenly red-hot Western New York ran its unbeaten streak in WPSL Elite to 11 with an impressive 2-1 road win over Chicago last Saturday night at Benedictine University, it shouldn’t have been all that surprising that the competing coaches had different takes on what the game meant as the season draws to a fairly abrupt close in the next couple of weeks.
The Flash – who early in the campaign looked the most likely of the “big four” teams to possibly drop into a playoff dogfight – now have a realistic, even good, shot of capturing the regular season title. They are tied atop the standings with Boston with one game to go, and host the Breakers on Sunday. A win will likely gave them the regular season crown (Chicago could then tie WNY with two wins this week, but the Flash hold the head-to-head tiebreaker, and – barring a hiding somewhere – should win on goal differential as well).
But what is that worth? Depends on who you talk to.
“We’d like to finish the season on a high,” Flash coach Aaran Lines said. “Boston will come in looking for a fight, they’re a great team. We’ve got eight days now to recover, which is huge.”
Chicago coach Rory Dames answered: “I don’t think it really matters where you end up 1 through 4. I think any of those teams are going to beat any other. It’s going to come down to that day and what goes on that day. Western New York will have a bit of an advantage because it’s at their field. But it’s 11 players versus 11 players. I don’t think dropping the points is an end all for us. It’s disappointing, we had a great crowd. We just need to be able to put the effort and commitment for 90 minutes the way we did in the second 45.
“Everywhere else in the world, (winning the regular season) is important. We said at the beginning of the season, we just have to be in the top four. We’re still an amateur team contrary to what everyone believes. We have players that have full-time jobs during the day. We have players that come in and out based on events and travel based on their work schedules.Our goal was always to get into the top four and give ourselves a chance at the end. We’re not Boston or Western New York who have their players all the time and train every day. It’s not where we’re at right now.”

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Chicago Red Stars Put on Ice for 2011

The Chicago Red Stars has officially ceased operations ahead of the 2011 season but has intentions of returning to WPS in 2012. On November 15, the team was granted a 30-day extension to find additional investors. With the December 15 deadline looming large, the team has failed to find further funding and is forced to close up shop, with the hope of re-joining the league the following season.

Chicago’s suspension of operations leaves WPS with six teams ahead of its third season, which is set to kick-off on the weekend of April 9-10. It will also make WPS an unofficial regional league, with all six franchises concentrated on the East Coast.

Only three of the original seven teams involved in the 2009 launch of WPS will be involved in the 2011 season. Incidentally, half of the teams had predecessors in the WUSA; the Atlanta Beat, the Boston Breakers and the Washington Freedom.

More details about the suspension of operations,  a potential saving grace that was not to be, and the long-term outlook for the club should emerge later this week.

Our deepest condolences to everyone affected by the folding.  Hopefully everything can be worked out ahead of 2012.

An Interview with Monica Gonzalez, Part 2: Life as a Footballer and Beyond

In part 1 of this interview series, you found out about Monica’s ventures in establishing Gonzo Soccer and Leadership Academy, the importance of generous people and organizations in sustaining and growing a program, and how Gonzo Soccer players have benefited from their experiences.

In the final installment of our conversation with Monica, we learn more about her career as a footballer and how life has been following her retirement from the international and professional game. As a versatile player who helped lead the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish to three NCAA final four appearances; the 11th overall pick in the 2002 WUSA draft by the Boston Breakers; and a key player for the Mexican Women’s National Team since its inception, with World Cup and Olympic experience, and who wore the captain’s armband from 2003 to 2007, all of these experiences came to impact her life both personally and professionally.

A special thanks to Monica for taking the time to talk to AWK, and Alyse LaHue for helping to make this interview possible!

All White Kit: Your soccer career has taken you to many places around the world. Let’s start from the beginning: what did the sport mean to you while growing up and how did all of this come to be? What were some of your most memorable moments?
Monica Gonzalez:
Growing up, I was just competitive and a perfectionist… I was never the best, but I always wanted to be and kept trying to work hard. I remember the day I found out that you could go to college for free with a scholarship I made that my goal, because I thought it would be the best way to thank my parents for everything they gave me growing up. I was always very inspired growing up…and every time I went to a summer camp or an ODP training or a USWNT game, it just kept that inspiration going.

Not until I got to the Boston Breakers and was forced to go to appearances, speaking engagements and community events did I realize how good it felt to be a role model and to have the power to impact others in the community. Those things are a must for the pro teams, but before that, I really didn’t care for it much. I became involved with the [Women’s Sports Foundation] because I wanted to go to a golf tournament, and while there, I listened to women like Tuti Scott and Billie Jean King speak and became motivated to use my position as a pro-athlete and a Mexican National team player to help out in the Hispanic community. These events and the camaraderie of it all has become my favorite part.

AWK: Elaborating on your versatility as a player both collegiately and internationally: at Notre Dame you started off as a forward and moved on to become a stalwart in the defence as an outside back then as a centre back. While you were mainly a sweeper for the Mexican National Team, you also played pretty much every field position for them. What went through your mind when called upon to fill these different roles? Did it have an impact on your confidence?
MG:
I first got moved back to defense at Notre Dame because Randy recruited some awesome freshmen that were fast, and I felt like my position was being threatened so I moved back to defense in practice during preseason to try to make them look bad. Then I got stuck there. I really like outside back because I would just go forward unmarked and do a scissor move every time and then pass or cross.

With Mexico, I ended up playing everywhere else mostly because I got bored with center back and I was frustrated with our midfielder’s lack of initiative to score, so I tried to take matters into my own hands. I convinced Leo to put me there and in hindsight, I was mistaken. I should have just stuck to what I did best and trusted in my teammates, but everything in life that doesn’t go your way ends up being a lesson learned, right?

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An Interview with Monica Gonzalez, Part 1: Gonzo Soccer and Leadership Academy

I’m certainly not the first person to point this out, but athletes can and will make differences in the lives of others, especially the young people who come to look up to them.

The former captain of the Mexican Women’s National Team, University of Notre Dame defender, and 11th overall selection by the Boston Breakers of the WUSA in 2002, Monica Gonzalez, went to Chicago with the intention of playing professional soccer, and by chance ended up establishing a soccer academy for underprivileged Latina girls. In addition to coaching young girls in the beautiful game, the staff of Gonzo Soccer are also teaching important life skills, providing academic support, and exposing their players to a myriad of opportunities that will hopefully allow them to take on their future with confidence and aspire for more in life.

Monica was kind enough to share her story in establishing Gonzo Soccer and she tells us more about the important people who make the academy possible.

A special thanks to Monica for taking the time to talk to AWK, and Alyse LaHue for helping to make this interview possible!

All White Kit: Describe Gonzo Soccer and what it offers. What do you hope to achieve with such programs and why do you think it is important to have these types of personal, athletic and academic support systems available/accessible?
Monica Gonzalez:
Well, first of all, these programs are important because the statistics for obesity, drug and alcohol use, pregnancies, and gang/domestic violence for Latina girls in America are going the wrong way. Secondly, they are important because these girls have just as much potential as students and as athletes as anyone else, so it’s important to have women from all walks of life educated and in the social and economic mainstream. It’s how America remains genuinely diverse.

Gonzo Soccer is an after-school program that offers soccer training, life-skills and leadership lessons, and academic assistance. What separates our after-school program from any other is the fact that our coaches all played soccer in college and many played professionally, so our girls are not only being trained by the area’s top coaches, they are being influenced on a regular basis by wonderful role models who know how to transmit the guidance and life lessons that sports participation offers. Each session we also either do a writing lesson, or a life-skills lesson, much of it similar to GoGirlGo [edit: GoGirlGo link], but with a touch of sport psychology in there as well. We also take field trips to Red Stars games, and through a sponsorship with Ringling Bros, were invited to sit front row at Disney on Ice.

AWK: How did the journey of establishing Gonzo Soccer begin?
MG:
By accident.  I had just moved to Chicago to try to play pro soccer and needed work in the meantime, so I went into the Hispanic community to try to put on a clinic. When the clinic was over, the girls began to ask when the next one was, and the owner of ChiTown Futbol [edit: ChiTown Futbol link] told me that people were asking him as well, so I spoke with him and he graciously said, “Use the field. I love what you are doing for these girls”. So, it turned into an every Monday affair. And little by little I started to add on the life-skills and other components. Girls of any socioeconomic background in any part of any country need to learn core values of teamwork, discipline, etc. and I already had experience with many of the ways the Women’s Sports Foundation [edit: Women’s Sports Foundation link] impacts young women through sport, so I just let it take on a life of its own.

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In Commemoration of the Chicago Red Stars' 2010 Season

Dear Red Stars,

Condolences, friends. It was fun while it lasted, wasn’t it? It’s a shame it all had to end when Allie Long threaded that pass through to Abby Wambach who buried her shot, as she does. Sky Blue FC lost 2-1 on Saturday night while you guys lost your season. And all at the hands of a team that currently has your former head coach serving in its front office. Appropriate, isn’t it. Luck has always hated you guys.

But there were bright spots. Whitney Engen; she’s quality. It would be unjust for her not to be up for consideration for Rookie of the Year. She’s a defender so she won’t win it but she best be recognized.

Ella Masar, phew, what a story. After failing to find the net in approximately 30 games as a professional, she somehow found this wonderful vein of form. She was in such a poor state that she nearly didn’t make the June 25th trip to Boston that eventually turned things around. She scored a pair of goals that night and hasn’t stopped scoring since.  Girl’s scored 8 goals in 12 games.  Only six players in the league have better scoring records.

And what about Formiga? She’s scary good and is both scary and good in equal measure. She’s appeared in all but one match for the Red Stars this season and did everything a midfielder can do. She broke up play, won tackles, hassled opponents, dictated play, found open teammates and solidified the midfield. Don’t let her lack of goals or assists fool you. She does everything else.

This being said, there were a couple of not so awesome things this season as well. Like Emma Hayes and her sacking on May 24th. Up to that point the Red Stars had taken four points from a possible 18. They had also managed to score just three times in six matches. Omid Namazi and Charlie Naimo were appointed Head Coach and Technical Advisor respectively.  Since then Omid Namazi has taken 14 points out of a maximum 45 points. That’s an improvement from Hayes’ record but the Red Stars’ 2009 season also has been taken into account.

Cristiane, Megan Rapinoe and Casey Nogueira have all been duds this season. And that’s the end of that.

And then there were the injuries and transactions. The Red Stars have parted ways with Meghann Burke, Ifeoma Dieke, Michele Weissenhofer, Brittany Klein, Anita Asante, Jackie Santacaterina, and Kosovare Asllani this season. Kelsey Davis and Julianne Sitch suffered season-ending injuries. Jess McDonald and Nikki Washington have constant injury woes. Veronica Boquete and Christie Shaner were signed. That’s a lot of player movement.

So yeah, Marta may have scored as many goals this year as your entire team combined. And yes, you haven’t been able to string two consecutive wins together in franchise history. And ok, you’ve never won a game after going a goal down. All those things may be true, Chicago, but there’s still something redeeming about you guys.

It can’t only be the kits, although they’re still the coolest in the league.

Maybe it’s the fans and how you guys have consistently averaged the second-best attendance in the league all season long, despite winning just twice at home. Or perhaps it’s the team’s front office. Imagine how hard it is to market a team that can’t win at home, has no real ‘stars’ and that plays some pretty atrocious soccer at times. And through that, the team can still attract the second-best attendance in the league? Well done, front office. (P.S. you know an organization is classy when it issues a press release admitting the team has been eliminated from playoff contention as soon as it happens.)

The Red Stars may have been the first team mathematically eliminated from the playoffs but they could still have a major effect on playoff implications. They have Philadelphia and Washington remaining, two teams angling for a playoff position. So go on Chicago, keep things interesting and give it a go.

And hey if it doesn’t work out, there’s always the #1 draft pick to look forward to. One wonders how Alex Morgan will do alongside Ella Masar. 

The Chicago Red Stars: never good, never bad, never dull.

The Freedom Appear Playoff Ready While Chicago Appear Finished

The Washington Freedom defeated the Chicago Red Stars 2-0 tonight in what was really an unofficial playoff game. A win for Chicago would have vaulted them into the all-important fourth spot while three points for the Freedom would assure the team’s safety in said fourth spot.

It’s a fairly predictable result for those who have been following WPS recently. Or for those who have been following the Chicago Red Stars you know, ever. WPS’ resident Jekyll and Hyde team lived up to its dubious billing tonight. The team had what appeared to be a strong first half. The team held up possession, Ella Masar was getting in behind the defenders, Casey Nogueira had some speculative chances and the oft-overlooked ROY candidate Whitney Engen was keeping Abby Wambach frustrated.

The Red Stars appeared to be doing well, particularly with a pretty gutted squad. Both Katie Chapman and Karen Carney were off preparing for England’s WWC qualifier while Kate Markgraf and Julianne Stitch were sidelined due to injury (Sitch permanently). This made way for the debut of brand new signee and former Los Angeles Sol defender Christie Shaner. 

It wasn’t all first half roses for the Red Stars, however, as forward Jessica McDonald went down with a torn patellar tendon which has already been determined to be season-ending.

And it would get so much worse for the Red Stars. In the 49′ Abby Wambach (the Freedom’s captain) struck a low shot that beat Jillian Loyden. It’s Wambach’s 10th goal of the season, which ties her with Kelly Smith for third most in 2010. Then five minutes later, Cat Whitehill (also the Freedom’s captain) won redemption for the awful mess she made last week as she headed in a cross from Sarah Huffman by way of the wood work.

Chicago’s lapse of concentration proved fatal. If one thing is absolutely certain about this team it’s that they simply can’t fight their way out of a corner. The Freedom would go on to own possession in the rest of the match and walk out owning possession of fourth place.

Ashlyn Harris had another fine night in the net, but opposing goalkeepers seem to always have career performances against the Chicago Red Stars. The team was beaten fair and square tonight. Perhaps the Red Stars were again unlucky. Losing a player (particularly a forward in a team that’s so parched for goals) is tough and consistently failing to take advantage of offensive opportunities is also tough. But at this juncture of the season, it isn’t mere luck that separates the best from the rest anymore. Perhaps Washington simply want it more. Perhaps it’s the team’s many veterans that give them the edge. Or maybe it’s just down to Washington’s mental toughness and resilience – a characteristic Chicago has once again failed to show.

Whatever it is, the Washington Freedom have proven that they really, really don’t belong in the same batch of teams below them. That will come in handy as they will try to drive that point home against those very teams over the next three weeks or so.

Meanwhile, the Red Stars will meet FC Gold Pride, Philadelphia and the Freedom to round out their regular season. They’ll need to take all six points against FCGP and Philadelphia if they have any visions of entering the re-match with the Freedom as equals again.

World, Meet Ella Masar. Again.

(Photo by Tracy Smith/isiphotos.net)

 

Both the Chicago Red Stars’ Ella Masar and Uruguay’s Diego Forlan scored circus goals today. One difference: Ella’s actually counted for something.  Her goal helped lift the Red Stars over Sky Blue FC with a 2-0 score line tonight.

Just four games ago Masar was just another forward that had yet to make a real impact in WPS as a true goal-scorer. To be fair, the latter half of her 2009 campaign was hampered by injury but she had still failed to find the back of the net. Likewise in the opening stanza of the 2010 season. Chicago couldn’t score, Masar was relegated to the bench, results were mediocre and Emma Hayes was to spend the rest of her summer in South Africa or in other words far, far away from Toyota Park,

Perhaps it was a confidence thing as scoring was something Masar had always been used to. The Illinois-native scored 92 goals in her high school career and went on to become the fourth-highest goal scorer for the University of Illinois as well as finishing second all-time in assists.

During the summers Masar plied her trade in the W-League. She travelled frequently and the goals (and assists) followed.

Masar was drafted 9th overall in the inaugural WPS Draft and recorded two assists in 16 games in 2009. That was when the goals stopped flowing, however.

Cue the arrival of Coach Omid Namazi. After a couple games in charge, Namazi elevated Masar to the starting XI. She responded quite well by scoring two goals in an emphatic victory over the Boston Breakers. Apparently that was all she needed as she’s been on an absolute tear ever since.

Masar has tallied four goals in just as many matches. Masar is suddenly the fourth highest goal scorer in the league and is just one goal away from tying Christine Sinclair and Abby Wambach.

It’s now customary to see Ella Masar’s name included in the scoring sheet for every Chicago Red Stars game. All Chicago needed was a lucky charm. Who knew they had it all along.