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Chicago Red Stars name Lorne Donaldson as new head coach

Donaldson most recently coached Jamaica to the Round of 16 at the 2023 World Cup

Patricia Pérez Ferraro / SPP

Lorne Donaldson is the new head coach of the Chicago Red Stars, the team announced on Wednesday. Donaldson has extensive experience in developing U.S. youth talent and most recently served as head coach of Jamaica’s women’s national team, guiding Jamaica to the Round of 16 at the 2023 World Cup.

Donaldson made his name as a player and coach in the Denver area, where he played an influential role in developing young players who became U.S. national team stars, including Mallory Swanson and Sophia Smith. Swanson is an unrestricted free agent who has played for Chicago since 2021.

“Lorne has a proven track record as a winning coach and an advocate for his athletes,” new Red Stars majority owner and executive chairperson Laura Ricketts said. “We believe he has the experience and leadership skills to elevate our talented group of players. As the president of the elite youth club Real Colorado, Lorne also has deep ties to some of the finest U.S. players.”

Donaldson is the second full-time Black head coach in National Women’s Soccer League history. Seb Hines became the first when he became the league’s first full-time Black coach ahead of the 2023 season.

The Red Stars fired former head coach Chris Petrucelli prior to the end of the 2023 NWSL season. Chicago finished last in the 12-team league, with 24 points from 22 games, and struggled through large stretches of the season. The Red Stars roster has been decimated by player exits in consecutive seasons — with more expected to come via free-agency exits — following last year’s reports on the allegedy toxic, enabling behavior of former owner Arnim Whisler.

A group led by Ricketts bought the Red Stars in September and promised immediate changes. A coach is a start.

“I’m excited to work with this talented team that includes some of the NWSL’s best players to turn the Chicago Red Stars into a championship club both on and off the pitch,” Donaldson said. “I look forward to partnering with Laura Ricketts and Karen Leetzow, who are committed to creating a culture of excellence and accountability. What I have most enjoyed in my career is coaching elite athletes and helping them reach and exceed their fullest potential.”

At the 2023 World Cup, Jamaica defeated Concacaf rival Panama and held both France and Brazil to scoreless draws in the group stage. The results allowed Jamaica to advance out of Group F alongside France, sending global heavyweight Brazil to a shocking group-stage exit.

Donaldson was at the helm for Jamaica in 2022 when the team finished third in Concacaf qualifying, which qualified the team for the World Cup and a berth in the Olympic play-in series (which Canada won in September). An ongoing issue during Donaldson’s time there, however, was a familiar one: the Jamaican federation’s lack of financial commitment to sustain success. That led to Donaldson’s exit and a widespread player boycott recently that ultimately cost Jamaica a place in the first Women’s Gold Cup, which will begin in February.

Donaldson is expected to join the Red Stars ahead of the NWSL Draft on Jan. 12. Currently, the Red Stars hold the No. 3 overall pick as the worst finisher from 2023. Expansion teams Utah Royals FC and Bay FC hold the first and second picks, respectively.

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