Thorns FC Opponent Dossier: Chicago Red Stars
Ready to build on their first win in the NWSL, the Portland Thorns take on Chicago Red Stars on Saturday (5pm PT on www.portlandthornsfc.com). Find out everything you need to know about the opposition.
A brief history…
Originally founded in 2007, the first Chicago Red Stars team competed in the Women’s Professional Soccer league (WPS) and played their home games at Toyota Park, where the men’s MLS team, Chicago Fire, play. Then they played in the Women’s Premier Soccer League before joining the WPSL Elite League.
Through the years, Chicago has had some world-class talent on their roster, like Brazilian star Cristiane, England’s Karen Carney, Sweden’s Frida Ostberg, and Australia’s Lydia Williams. They were keen to hold onto the club’s name and tradition, which is why owner Arnim Whisler has remained involved.
Where do they play their home games?
Home for Chicago is the multi-purpose Village of Lisle-Benedictine University Sports Complex, which was opened in 2005 and can hold up to 3,000 supporters. Based in the Illinois suburb of Lisle, the stadium is quite modern and has a running track circling the pitch.
The good news for the Thorns is that the pitch itself is artificial surface, so it will be similar to what the players are familiar with at JELD-WEN Field. It is a pitch that allows the ball to roll quite quickly, which will suit any visiting team with intentions of playing a passing game.
What players have they recruited?
The name that jumps off their roster sheet at first glance is United States midfielder Shannon Boxx, who was allocated to the team along with Amy LePeilbet and Keelin Winters, Mexican pair Dinora Garza and Maribel Dominguez, and Canadian duo Erin McLeod and Carmelina Moscato. Winters was eventually traded to Seattle Reign FC for a 2014 NWSL College Draft first round pick and future considerations.
Chicago made some good moves in picking up Taryn Hemmings and Jessica McDonald as free agents, while they selected Rachel Quon and Zakiya Bywaters in the NWSL Draft. They also had six players returning from the previous Red Stars team, including Lauren Fowlkes, Lori Chalupny and Ella Masar.
How have they fared so far?
Chicago have played just one game to date – the 1-1 tie at home to Seattle Reign – so they are bound to be fresh for this weekend’s clash with the Thorns. And they will have used that time to review the good and the bad of that tied game on the opening weekend of the season when they probably should have collected the three points.
After conceding in the 10th minute, Chicago hit back soon after and continued to pepper the Seattle goal with shots. They dominated possession and territory, but struggled to find a way through a visiting team, who sat deep and invited pressure on. Quicker passing, more accurate shooting and a higher tempo will be what they are looking to add to their game.
Head coach: Rory Dames
With time spent at St Louis University and serving as director of coaching for the Eclipse Select Soccer Club, Dames knows all about soccer at various levels. Due to his Chicago roots, he possesses a strong knowledge of the local scene and its best players. So he was a natural fit to take charge of the Red Stars, who he previously coached in the WPSL and WPSL Elite.
Star Player: Shannon Boxx
Closing in on 200 appearances for the United States, this veteran midfielder has won three Olympic gold medals and played in Europe with FC Saarbrucken. Chicago is bound to benefit from that experience as she takes over as their defensive midfield general. A very clever player, Boxx uses the ball well, breaks up opposition attacks, and gets her team moving.
One To Watch: Rachel Quon
Expected to occupy the right-back spot for Chicago, this Illinois native is fast developing into a noteworthy player. She has represented the United States at youth level and stood out during her college years at Stanford, where she was a finalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy. Selected as the ninth pick overall in the NWSL Draft, Quon appears to be with the right team at the right time.
What can the Thorns expect?
Chicago has already showed that they will be one of the teams to watch this year due to their organization, team shape and work ethic. There appears to be a bond struck between the players; originally forged when many of them played together for this team in a different league. This means that they already know little things like which runs a team-mate will make or what foot they prefer to use.
The link-up play between Chalupny and Masar for Chicago’s equalizing goal against Seattle highlighted the telepathic link that exists in the squad. And when they can get Boxx up to full fitness, then their game-plan of moving the ball through midfield and up to the forwards as quickly as possible will run a lot more smoothly.
Who are their main threats?
Dominguez is bound to become an important player for Chicago and if she can strike up a partnership with Masar, then they could be the most fearsome forward pairing in the league (aside from the Thorns’ Christine Sinclair and Alex Morgan, of course). McDonald should also prove to be a big threat with her pace and power.
Chicago has some capable defenders on their roster, like Moscato and Hemmings, but they do not look as strong in that department as other teams do. So they will be relying heavily on cover from midfield with Boxx expected to shield the back four, while their wingers will act as the creative players. This will be a team that wins and loses games depending on how their midfield performs.
Did You Know?
The six points on the red star in the team’s logo each have their own individual meaning. From the top point going clockwise, they stand for: entertainment, service, success, community, teamwork, and leadership.
Gareth Maher is a contributing writer to PortlandTimbers.com. He is a frequent writer about soccer for the Irish Daily Mail in Dublin as well as ESPNFC.com.