Mark Chicago down as being comfortable with their underdog status heading into the 2013 NWSL season. Chicago will be the team to watch in the next few weeks between the college draft and free agency, needing some big moves to keep up with early favorites.
Chicago’s allocation skewed older, between Shannon Boxx, Amy LePeilbet, and Maribel Dominguez. Age isn’t as much of a factor with goalkeeper Erin McLeod or fellow Canadian Carmelina Moscato, and the addition of up-and-comer Keelin Winters in the midfield and Dinora Garza up top helps even out the average age of Chicago’s allocated players.
Shannon Boxx made a mark in both the WUSA and the WPS, and it’s certainly not out of the question for her to continue her run as an all-star level player. Her physical style of play might prove an issue in the grind of a 22-game season, but Chicago will certainly rely on Boxx to anchor the midfield while still making a contribution offensively. Her veteran status on the U.S. national team will likely prove a huge asset in leadership of the team off the field.
Amy LePeilbet’s no stranger to Chicago, having played for four years for the W-League team, the Chicago Cobras from 1998 to 2002. LePeilbet had a successful career in the WPS as well, and was named Defender of the Year back-to-back in 2009 and 2010 while playing with the Boston Breakers. Having bounced around positionally on the back line for the U.S. national team, the Red Stars haven’t decided if she’ll continue as an outside back or return to the center, where she’s arguably much stronger.
“LePeilbet is a world-class player,” said Chciago GM Alyse LaHue. It’s still too early for line-up decisions though, in her opinion. “We won’t be able to assess her position until our full group comes together.”
Keelin Winters might be the greatest unknown in the U.S. allocated player pool, having only been called up to a few camps, but she’s no stranger to the U.S. club level of play. She was a first round draft pick in 2011 for the Boston Breakers, and was nominated for the Rookie of the Year award. Last season, she played with the Seattle Sounders Women in the W-League, then headed to FFC Turbine Potsdam for a short-term contract.
Winters is a perfect example of why the new league was created: to develop talent ahead of the 2015 Women’s World Cup. LaHue agrees that the league will provide a weekly showcase for new talent for all three federations.
“Leagues like this always create ‘new stars’ and you never know who they might be or where they came from. There’s going to be a great mix of players that are vying for consistency with their national team allocation spot and there’s going to be other players that are fighting their way into their national team pools.”
The Red Stars solved one problem early when they were allocated Canadian starting goalkeeper Erin McLeod. While other teams will still need to look for a starter between the pipes, Head Coach Rory Dames can rest easy on that front. Chicago could use one of their later draft picks in the third or fourth round to fill the back-up position.
LaHue said the desire for McLeod to land in Chicago was mutual. “We are thrilled to have Erin in Chicago. We were aware of her interest in coming here and she was aware of our interest in her, so it was the perfect match. We made it easy on the allocation committee there.”
Carmelina Moscato will bring some additional stability to the center of the field along with Boxx, having over 50 appearances for the national team, as well as club experience in Canada and Europe.
Chicago received two offensive players with their allocations from Mexico. Dominguez is nearing 100 appearances for the Mexican women’s national team, and made news in 2004 for signing with men’s side Celaya. FIFA ultimately denied the move, and even banned her from appearing in exhibition matches. She had a successful career with the Atlanta Beat in the WUSA days. Garza can be used as an attacking mid, and brings some much needed youth to the Chicago side.
From a marketing standpoint, compared with the allocations of other teams, Chicago may have the hardest time getting potential new fans interested. Boxx, LePeilbet, and Winters might be common names to those who watch national team games regularly and follow the upcoming names on the player pool, but none of them have have household name status compared to the likes of Megan Rapinoe or on-the-verge Sydney Leroux.
Chicago will need to come up big in the college draft and free agency. If they get an early enough pick for the college draft, they could score any of the numerous forwards and attacking mids that are in the mix. Chicago is the team most in need of the services of a dynamic forward or winger. There are a number of striker candidates in the draft pool to pair with Dominguez, and they’ll need someone to add young energy and creativity on the attack.
And as for free agents, the team alluded to deals being made behind the scenes recently on Twitter. GM LaHue did confirm that discussions were underway.
“We had already been speaking to free agents prior to allocation that we thought would fit around the type of players we were seeking in the allocation pool. We are still committed to those free agents. But we’ve had to take a good hard look at our college draft needs after last Friday”
So while Chicago may have been surprised last week by their allocation, they’re adjusting quickly. And as LaHue says, there’s more to it than just what a player can contribute in a game.
“Obviously there’s so many factors into building a team and we’ve had to do it at a break-neck pace. We like to look at more than just the player and actually see them as an individual on and off the field. Will they be a good representative of our organization? Will they take care of our fans and show constant appreciation? Things like that are important to us as a team.”
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