New season, new players as Red Stars step up play
Ella Masar's theory is that the Red Stars had the wrong cleats in last year's disappointing inaugural season.
The club had too many white-cleat players, the "shiny, crafty" kind of player, Masar's theory goes. They needed more of the black-cleat players, the kind who "do the grit."
"Last year we had the best team (on paper) by far, but we never really got to mesh," Masar said after the second-year club's practice in Oak Brook. "This year we're kind of the underdogs. We've got nothing to lose, so I think we're going to come out there and make our presence known in (Women's Professional Soccer)."
Their chance starts with Sunday's season opener in New Jersey against defending WPS champion Sky Blue FC (5 p.m., Fox Soccer Channel). The Red Stars' home opener is April 17 against St. Louis Athletica.
Gone are U.S. national team players Lindsay Tarpley and Carli Lloyd, as well as Swedish goalkeeper Caroline Jonsson.
"We can't have all the same type of great player," added returning defender Natalie Spilger. "We need a little bit more mixup. We have a really good mix now of talent and composure and toughness and magic."
The team added gritty players such as Oswego native Julianne Sitch and English midfielder Katie Chapman, as well as Brazilian playmaker Formiga and Swedish forward Kosovare Asllani. Rookies Casey Noguiera and Whitney Engen look promising, and veteran defender Kate Markgraf is back after missing last season for maternity leave. Jillian Loyden takes over in the net. Only nine players whose cleats roamed the Toyota Park field last year have returned.
"We lost some exceptional players," coach Emma Hayes said, "but I'm sure our fans will see when Katie Chapman and Formiga and Asllani and Noguiera and Markgraf and Engen roll out, we've replaced them with exceptionally good players too."
They seem to be meshing.
"That was clear form Day One that it's the right group for us," Hayes said. "Philosophically, they've embraced the ideas that we're developing here. They play hard for each other, which for us will be the key to how well they do."
With all the new faces, however, there won't be a change in the style of soccer they play.
"No, no way," Hayes said. "I think it will look more like my style this year as a result of the players we've brought in. It's a good fit."
But the changes do have the players thinking championship again.
"I think anyone who looks at us on paper is probably shaking in our boots," Spilger said. "We look strong, and it shows on the field."