It’s hard to screw up in a draft in which you’ve got two of the first four picks, and Chicago didn’t rock the boat early in that regard. A midfield with Lori Chalupny, Leslie Osborne, and now Julie Johnston and Vanessa DiBernardo looks to be one of the league’s best and should provide plenty of ammunition for a revitalized frontline. In a sense, it creates some selection and tactical dilemmas for Rory Dames, as he’s got to figure out the best way to deploy all that midfield talent, though 4-2-3-1 seems like the best bet with Johnston alongside Osborne and Chalupny splitting left of DiBernardo. How Dames plans to cram Christen Press, Melissa Tancredi, and Adriana Leon into that attack might take some trial and error at the beginning of the season or further into it in the case of the first two options listed above.
Dames deserves the benefit of the doubt after his keen talent evaluation in last year’s draft, but one wonders if he’s showing a bit of overconfidence in his backline. The roster as listed right now was a veritable M*A*S*H unit last season, with Taryn Hemmings, Amy LePeilbet, and Casey Short coming into this year off serious knee injuries, while key reserve Jackie Santacaterina is coming off of hip surgery. With that in mind, taking the very attack minded Hayley Brock with the club’s final pick in this draft may have been an unneeded luxury.
3 – Julie Johnston – MF/D – Santa Clara
I was 50/50 on whether Chicago would spring for Johnston or Kassey Kallman, with the latter helping to ease some of the worries defensively the club may be facing with so many injury concerns regarding the prospective starting backline. But Johnston’s a top-two talent in this draft class, a USWNT international, and the Red Stars will simply find a way to fit her into their plans despite midfield not necessarily looking like the most pressing need right now. If the club goes 4-2-3-1, Johnston might act as a double pivot alongside Leslie Osborne, strengthening the spine of the Red Stars by a great degree. I’m not sure Johnston can play higher up the pitch with Vanessa DiBernardo also being drafted unless the team played 4-3-3 with Lori Chalupny as a left-wing forward. Johnston could shift back to center-back, as she did with the U20 team, but I think such a move would waste her noted ability on the ball. I’ll be surprised if she’s not a success at this level, but I’m going to be very interested in how Rory Dames gets the best out of her.
4 – Vanessa DiBernardo – MF – Illinois
I think the only question was whether DiBernardo would be picked with Chicago’s first or second pick in the opening round. The answer was the latter, and the big question now is how Rory Dames is going to work up a gameplan with both DiBernardo and Chalupny in the equation. The veteran has seemed comfortable in the hole as the team’s attacking midfielder, but one wonders if the duo can work in concert in a 4-3-3 with either Julie Johnston or Leslie Osborne behind them. A 4-2-3-1 would seem like a more sensical fit, but that’d require Chalupny to move out wide left, though she’s certainly capable. At the very least, Dames should know what he’s getting from DiBernardo, who played with the club during its WPSL days. She’s not going to be mistaken for a pure playmaker in midfield any time soon, but DiBernardo can change the game with a single hit of the ball thanks to her powerful shot from range. Her usage stats weren’t sterling this season, in which she missed major time with a knee injury, but I think surrounding her with more acute weapons will gloss over some of her flaws. She’s ready to go right now, and I’d fully expect her in the first XI on opening day for the Red Stars.
22 – Hayley Brock – F – Maryland
For value, it’s not a bad pick, as I had Brock with a late third-late fourth round grade on my Big Board. For need? I’m not sure. Rory Dames spoke of needing some attacking cover while Christen Press and Melissa Tancredi were gone, but this is a club that already has Zakiya Bywaters, Jen Hoy, Adriana Leon, and Alyssa Mautz under contract, with all four showing flashes of real potential in 2013. By contrast, looking at the defense, there are a whopping four players coming off of major injuries in 2013. The only projected starter with no injury flags hanging over her is Rachel Quon, while its hard to argue the club could do with an upgrade over the likes of Lydia Vandenbergh and Michelle Wenino as reserves. Brock brings fairly capable usage numbers from her senior season and a lot of pace, making her an ideal candidate to run at tired legs late. But given those defensive questions and some of the talent still on the board, you have to wonder if the Red Stars may have erred by overlooking adding a defender late.