* = confirmed signed for 2015
(parentheses) = Potentially absent for Women’s World Cup
In A Nutshell:
Yeah, Chicago needs a lot of contingency plans to prepare themselves for the WWC. A truly worst case scenario would see them missing nine players for the WWC, though a few of the fringe players on that list are likely to miss out. Even so, the lack of superior options in each line of the field is troublesome, though the midfield, with potentially Vanessa DiBernardo, Alyssa Mautz, and Zakiya Bywaters may be best off. Still, the Red Stars better be hoping Rory Dames can unearth a few more gems, or 2015 could be a long slog come the middle of the season.
Biggest Needs: DMC, RB, CB, LM, CF, LB, backup GK
GK – (LeBlanc), Vancil
Much in the same boat as Houston are, Chicago will be without their #1 keeper for much of the season, with Karina LeBlanc set to be with Canada for the WWC. Unlike the Dash, Chicago’s situation in goal is a little more unsettled. The incumbent is Taylor Vancil, who went from being Kelsey Wys’ backup in Florida State to a solid understudy for the Red Stars the past two seasons. Is she a true #1 though? I’m not particularly sure, though she could send her stock soaring with a strong season. It may be easier said than done when the club’s top defenders are all absent though.
With LeBlanc aging, Chicago may well make a move to solidify the long-term future of the position at any rate. At the very least, Vancil’s going to need competition for the long stretch of the season in which LeBlanc will be away. It wouldn’t be a shock if the club spent one of its picks on a netminder, though given how Rory Dames was able to find a later round gem in Vancil, the club could leave it late in acquiring another young netminder.
DEF – (*Erceg), Hemmings, *Johnson, (Johnston), Morway, (Quon), Wenino
Every unit of the Red Stars is vulnerable to WWC absences, and that rings especially true for the backline, which could be missing three of its four likely first choice defenders come the Women’s World Cup, including both center-backs. Keeping Abby Erceg in the fold after she impressed upon her arrival last season was a great move, but losing her and Julie Johnston for a long chunk of time basically robs the Red Stars of their greatest strength. At first blush, the time will probably move Taryn Hemmings back into the middle from full-back and partner her with Samantha Johnson, a fantastic find after being undrafted last season. The duo has the potential to be an above-average one, but switching from one center-back pairing to another mid-season is perilous.
Hemmings coming into the middle also means the club is starved for full-back depth. Rachel Quon may ultimately miss out on the WWC having floated on and off of rosters for the past few years, but if she makes it, the club will basically be down to Kecia Morway and Michelle Wenino, both little more than replacement level players at this point. Hemmings and Quon out wide aren’t a bad full-back duo, but it’d be foolish to not expect the Red Stars to target a full-back in a draft crop loaded with them.
MF – (Boxx), Bywaters, (*Chalupny), DiBernardo, Mautz, Sitch
Well, things certainly got a lot more complicated when Lori Chalupny, deservedly, got herself back into the USWNT. Chalunpy likely would’ve been one of the season’s pivotal figures had she not gotten that recall, but her absence is going to leave a gaping void in the midfield when she’s away. Where the invention is going to come from in the center of the park is anyone’s guess, but it’s time for Vanessa DiBernardo to make the leap and cash in on some of her potential after a solid rookie season.
Alyssa Mautz and Zakiya Bywaters are more expansive options that can create problems out wide, but neither are exactly the most consistent in terms of form. Mautz has moments of brilliance and moments of madness, and Rory Dames will be hoping for more of the former this season. Bywaters is running out of time to justify her #1 overall selection a few years ago and needs a big season this year.
Defensively, things are even more fraught. Shannon Boxx is back and has an outside chance of making the USWNT WWC squad but more than likely is just a standby option. She has played little first-team football over the past few years, and just how much she can offer in a long, grueling season is a point of contention. The only other option in defensive midfield on paper is Julianne Sitch, a gritty gamer but one who isn’t much more than a replacement level option at this point.
Julie Johnston’s long-term future may reside at defensive midfielder, but the club may still look for options all around the midfield to help fortify the spine of the team.
FW – Brock, Hoy, (Leon), (Press), (Tancredi)
Well, the good news is that when this group is whole, it looks pretty formidable. Christen Press perhaps hasn’t been a superstar at club level for Chicago yet, but she’s undoubtedly the top scoring threat on the team and could be the catalyst to a playoff run when she’s not with the USWNT. Melissa Tancredi looked surprisingly spry for someone who hadn’t played extensive club football in ages and adds a much needed dimension of power up front. The key will be how much she still has in the tank once she returns for club duty after the WWC. Adriana Leon is the wild card. She’s not a lock to make the Canadian WWC roster, and if she doesn’t, she’d be a boost to the offense, though her inconsistent ways continue to be maddening.
If Leon does make the roster, Chicago could be in some serious trouble up top, as they have just Jen Hoy and Hayley Brock to rely on. Hoy was on point early in the season before the arrival of Press and Tancredi but wore down late in the season and did not seem compatible with Press in the lineup, which has to be a big worry going forward, though it may not be as big a factor this season with the international calendar. Brock looks like a raw product still but will be needed to supply the goods this season given all the likely absences.
Reinforcements from the draft look likely, but the Red Stars may end up reaching for someone earlier than they should.