As we say goodbye to an old year and ring in a brand new year, we tend to look back and reflect on all kinds of things that happened throughout that time. We thought we’d stroll down memory lane and recap some of our favorite moments from the Chicago Red Stars in 2016.
What’s a Sophomore Slump? – Colaprico, Gilliland, and Huerta Break the Bar.
The Chicago Red Stars saw some pretty significant changes to their roster headed into the 2016 season. While a talented young core was returning, some wondered, “where would the experience and leadership come from?”
It was a noticeable veteran void after losing players to retirement like Karina LeBlanc, Michelle Lomnicki, Shannon Boxx, and long-time captain Lori Chalupny.
Despite the doubts about outstanding veteran leadership, 2016 saw three draftees who surpassed their rookie wall and didn’t fear a sophomore slump. Arin Gilliland, Danielle Colaprico, and Sofia Huerta all had a successful second year in Chicago. The former rookies started all twenty games in 2016 and played significant roles on the pitch for their team.
Gilliland fully embraced her attacking outside back role collecting two assists. The defender often showed us her speed as she attacked the flanks for Chicago. However, it’s her sharp set piece defending skills that made us exclaim, “how did that ball not go in the back of the net?”
Huerta logged significant minutes for a team in the final third when doubters questioned, “who else on the Red Stars can score besides Christen Press?” Huerta netted seven goals and two assists for Chicago. Danielle Colaprico played a crucial role as a holding mid for Chicago. In a position that often goes unnoticed and gets little praise, defending the backline while connecting the offense, Colaprico put in the work while scoring 1 goal and collecting 2 assists.
Colaprico and Huerta displayed this connection on one of the prettier goals this season, with Colaprico threading a long ball through to Huerta who danced her way into the back of the net.
All three players are currently playing in Australia on W-League teams during the NWSL offseason. Hopefully we’ll see them come back to Chicago red hot.
Alyssa Naeher is One with the Force
Alyssa Naeher was a living, breathing, walking, highlight reel in 2016. This season gave so many options for a favorite save, but we had to go with her double save against Seattle Reign FC.
In a game that had potential playoff seeding implications for both teams, Chicago was chasing the game after going down two goals early. Seattle’s Beverly Yanez had a great chance on goal to make the game 3-1 before the half. It was a powerful shot that saw Naeher make not one, but two saves, mid-air, on the same shot. It was truly something out of a movie.
Naeher came to Chicago after the Red Stars made various trades with Western New York and Boston. A huge pick up for Chicago during the off season, the former Boston Breaker made her presence known in the league with veteran keepers like Hope Solo and Nicole Barnhardt.
Naeher was named NWSL player of the month back in May for her performances over four games. Naeher collected three shut outs and allowed one goal, establishing a league shutout streak of 485 minutes without conceding a goal, good for a second place in the NWSL record book. Her vision of the pitch, leadership on the backline, and outstanding play were vital in helping Chicago reach the semi-finals.
She was a finalist for 2016 Goal Keeper of the year and won Chicago Red Stars 2016 “Iron Woman of Character” award.
Outside Back Game Strong – The Return of Casey Short
While Alyssa Naeher was arguably the Red Stars biggest offseason acquisition, a case can be made for another player who had a big year on the back line for Chicago.
Casey Short had been connected to the Chicago Red Stars for years. Initially drafted by Boston in 2013, she never got to see significant playing time due to injury. Chicago acquired her rights from Boston via trade, but Short suffered another knee injury and missed the 2014 season. After rehab, surgeries, and an overseas tenure in Norway, 2016 finally saw the arrival of Casey Short in the NWSL.
In the second match of the season – her second start – Short scored the game winner and showed us just a glimpse of what would be a memorable return to the league.
Short started all 20 games in 2016 for Chicago. She logged 1781 total minutes and two goals on her first season back in the NWSL. Her ability to take on players along the flanks, coupled with her pace, made her both a defensive and offensive threat. Her chemistry with fellow outside back Arin Gilliland caught the attention of National Team coach Jill Ellis. Both Short and Gilliland earned invitations to senior national team camps at the end of the season.
Welcome Back Boston – The Arrival of Stephanie McCaffrey
While Chicago enjoyed a steady presence at the top four of the league standings, there was too often a feeling of lackluster offense. Despite having one of the league’s most dynamic scorers in Christen Press, a mid-season trade in July between Boston and Chicago brought forward Stephanie McCaffrey back to the team who originally drafted her in 2015.
After a struggle in the first half of the season in Boston, McCaffrey sought an opportunity outside of her hometown Boston to better her game. In a post-game conference, the former Breaker talked about the mutuality of trade that brought her to Chicago.
“I think that nothing good comes from comfort zones, especially at this level. I kind of felt like I was at a point that in order to kick my career in the gear I want it to go to I need to change, and to break out of that comfort zone. It had nothing to do with our [Boston] record per say as much as my lack of contribution there for the first half of the season, and what I know I’m capable of I think will be better achieved somewhere I’m not so comfortable.”
McCaffrey’s arrival to the Red Stars brought an immediate impact. The attack-minded forward scored a goal in her first start with her new team and showed no hesitation in establishing an attacking role for Chicago in the final third. Her first goal in her first start as a Red Star was a game winner for Chicago, but it’s her second goal that is our top moment. Not many young attackers can say they took Christine Rampone and got the best of her, and McCaffrey now has that distinction.
Christen Press is Captain Primetime
There are few goalkeepers who would want to find themselves one on one versus Christen Press. Coming into the 2016 season, many wondered who would wear the arm band for Chicago since former Red Stars captain Lori Chalupny had retired from soccer. It would be Press who led the team on the field and in total goals this season.
Known for her remarkable first touch and highlight worthy goals, Press ended the Red Stars season with nine goals (yes, we’re including her goal in the semi-final). Out of the nine goals, six of them happened in the second half of the respective games. It kept us watching for more goals once the 60th minute hit, waiting for “Prime Time.”
The first 2016 Prime Time goal happened in Chicago’s first home game of the season against Orlando Pride and it was only appropriate to end our top Red Stars moments with this goal.
Have Happy and Safe New Years!