A return to the NWSL Playoffs highlights the season
Setting their hopes high after an unfortunate takedown in the 2015 National Women’s Soccer League Semifinal, the Chicago Red Stars came into the 2016 season as one of the youngest squads in the league.
With an average age of 24.25, Chicago lost a great deal of leadership and experience from their 2015 squad and would need to fill the shoes of the greats that departed.
It would be none other than U.S. Women’s National Team member Christen Press, entering her third season with the Red Stars, who would step out of her comfort zone to embrace the captain position.
“Christen has far exceeded my expectations of what I thought she could grow into in the role [of leadership],” said Dames. “She found her way and Julie found her way with the group. I think we have some really good players who grew to be leaders outside of the field and that’s been huge for us.”
In the 2016 NWSL College Draft, Chicago made a name of itself, becoming the team with the most selections (7) in the draft. The first pick for Chicago came in the second round, picking up defender Katie Naughton, who finished the season playing in 17 matches (9 starts).
Chicago also drafted third-round pick defender Sarah Gorden, and two fourth-round picks, midfielder Courtney Raetzman and forward Janelle Flaws, who accumulated 208 total minutes.
The Red Stars entered their preseason match-ups against Northwestern University and Notre Dame University with a young, dynamic team, defeating both colleges with ease. On April 3, Jen Hoy earned a brace in the first half, while Sofia Huerta earned her pair in the second half, with Alyssa Mautz finishing the scoreline, shutting out Northwestern 5-0. Playing their second preseason match just three days later, the Red Stars defeated Notre Dame 3-2 with goals from Mautz, Raetzman and Hoy.
The 2016 season didn’t start off as planned, falling to hosts Houston in the first match, but Chicago recharged and went on an eight-game undefeated streak.
The month of May proved to be one of the best for Chicago, finishing 3-0-2. Goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher earned NWSL’s Player of the Month for May after earning three shutouts and allowing just one goal in four games. Naeher was the only goalkeeper to gain the feat in 2016. She also earned NWSL Player of the Week in Week 5, after saving five of 12 shots to seal a 0-0 draw against FC Kansas City. Chicago would finish the month of May with a NWSL record 485-minute shutout streak.
In June, the Red Stars tallied their biggest deficit of the year after a 3-0 shutout against Boston, where Huerta notched two goals and the NWSL Player of the Week title in Week 9. Chicago fell to Portland, Western New York and Washington in back-to-back-to-back 2-0 losses during their four-game road series, but were able to jump back into the flow, again going 3-0-2 right before and after the Olympic break.
Just before the Olympic break, Chicago acquired forward Stephanie McCaffrey from Boston, who helped the Red Stars by nabbing two goals in her first two starts, including the game winner against FCKC on July 30.
The Red Stars finished just shy of becoming the only team to go undefeated at home this season, losing 3-2 against FCKC on September 7 at Toyota Park.
In their last regular season match, the Red Stars hosted current first-place Washington Spirit, dominating the powerhouse team 3-1, as Christen Press, Cara Walls and Huerta notched the first three goals in 46 minutes.
For the second year in a row, Chicago earned a trip to the playoffs after finishing the season with 33 points, enough to earn third-place. Chicago would travel to Washington to play the Spirit in the 2016 NWSL Semifinal.
The Spirit would open the scoring in the 36th minute when captain Ali Krieger headed in a pass from defender Shelina Zadorsky. However, it would be Red Stars captain Christen Press once again tallying a goal for Chicago to equalize in the 81st minute off an assist from Casey Short.
In overtime, Chicago continued to put the pressure on Washington, but would fall short in the 111th minute when Francisca Ordega scored the game winner.
2016 By the Numbers:
39 – Number of shots on goal by Christen Press; most in the league
33 – Number of points Chicago finished the season with, being the only team in NWSL to
accumulate at least 30 points each season
20 – Number of goals against Chicago; least in the league
7 – Number of assists earned for Vanessa DiBernardo; second most in the league
6 – Number of clean sheets Alyssa Naeher earned; most in the league
5 – Number of players who played in all 20 matches this season; most in the league
2 – Number of semifinals the Red Stars have made during its career in the NWSL
Outlook to 2017:
The Chicago Red Stars have consistently been a threat, both offensively and defensively, the past two years – reaching the end of the regular season in second and third place, respectively. No stranger to post-season play, you can expect the Red Stars to continuously make appearances in the playoffs, proving they will hoist up the NWSL Championship trophy in years to come. A young squad has gained invaluable experience over the past two seasons and Chicago will look to put it all together in 2017.
Chicago will return to Toyota Park in 2017 with season tickets currently on sale here.