This week, we present part 2 of our look at the first third of the 2023 NWSL Regular Season, with interesting team news and results, reviewing the Orlando Pride, Washington Spirit, Racing Louisville, Houston Dash, Kansas City Current and the Chicago Red Stars.
Last week, in part 1, we examined the top six teams so far this season: San Diego Wave, Portland Thorns, North Carolina Courage, OL Reign, Angel City FC and NY/NY Gotham FC (see: https://www.tribalfootball.com/articles/the-week-in-women-s-football-nwsl-review-ol-reign-upset-with-man-utd-gotham-fc-celebrate-esther-coup-4475777).
Orlando Pride (10-1-11, 31 points, Tied for Fifth)
The Orlando Pride made a post-WWC run to the playoffs and fell short by a mere two goals, actually tying Angel City and Gotham on points with 31, but trailing them both by that goal difference. Part of their success this season was that they had the second highest win total in the league, tied with Portland with 10, and one win behind San Diego on 11. Their single tie was the lowest in the league—the top two teams San Diego and Portland had four and five deadlocks respectively, with the other playoff sides recording between five and seven each. The Pride won three of their last four games, including a season ending 1-0 win at home over Houston, who also was trying to make the playoffs. Brazil's Marta scored on a penalty kick with three minutes left but it was too late to score the two more goals they needed to make the playoffs. The win over Houston did set a club record of home wins with seven.
Head coach Seb Hines probably did enough to keep his job for another season after finishing tenth last season and 11 points out of a playoff spot in his first full season in charge but the Pride can't have a start of the season with one point from five games (four losses) as they did in 2023 and must improve their goalscoring of 27 team goals (eight best in the league) as they surrendered 28 (seventh best in the league).
Marta (37) plans to be available for next summer's Olympic Games Finals in Paris, but how much longer will she stay in the league? After the season, to commemorate her 100th appearance for the Pride in their 1-0 win on October 2 at Angel City, Marta received a hand-stitched jersey that combines all seven tops that the Brazilian legend has worn on the field over her NWSL career (see below).
The Pride commissioned Amsterdam-based designer Floor Wesseling who, through his company Blood in Blood out, carefully patterned the seven designs to create a one-of-a-kind art piece. The piece features the Pride's 2017 home kit, which Marta wore when she made her debut for Orlando; the 2018-19 away kit; the 2019-20 Reflection Kit; the 2020-21 White Plume Kit; the 2021-22 Ad Astra Kit; the 2022-23 Luna Kit and the 2023 Highway Woman Kit. This was a memorable award to a true icon of the game and of the Pride. Head coach Seb Hines must begin the transitory process of getting the team to not be so reliant on her as unfortunately, her retirement from club ball may not be long in the distance.
Adriana of Brazil, who played at the WWC this summer, and Messiah Bright (23), who played at Texas Christian University and with multiple U.S. youth national teams, led the team in scoring with six goals each, while Marta had four as she came back from an ACL injury that she suffered last season.
Marta in her Orlando Pride customized commemorative jersey. Photo Credit Mark Thor; Courtesy of the Orlando Pride.
The Orlando Pride and English goalkeeper Anna Moorhouse (28) from Oldham, agreed to a new contract through the 2025 season towards the end of this season. Moorhouse finished with seven clean sheets in the 2023 season, breaking the Pride's record for most clean sheets in a single season with the win over Angel City FC and then added one more clean sheet against Houston (1-0) in their final regular season game.
The Pride's Vice President of Soccer Operations and General Manager Haley Carter—a former goalkeeper herself—said. "Anna has quietly put together a consistent and impressive season. Her presence between the posts is felt across our backline and her leadership has been a major contributor to our group's defensive organization… We are happy for her to extend her playing career with us and are confident she will continue to compete day in and day out."
Moorhouse joined the Pride in January of 2022 via transfer from French D1 Féminine side Bordeaux, spending two seasons with Bordeaux and making 28 starts during that time. She also had a stint with West Ham United, where she helped the team make a run to the FA Cup Final through the 2018-19 campaign. She spent her youth career at Manchester United and began her professional career at Everton. She made her professional debut with FA Women's Championship side Durham in 2014 and made stops at Doncaster Rover Belles and Arsenal prior to her time at West Ham United.
Washington Spirit (7-9-6, 30 points, Eighth)
Washington missed the playoffs for the second time in three seasons and somewhat surprising, first year head coach Mark Parsons was terminated just after the season ended, with one year left on his contract. Most reports suggested that this decision was solely based on the team's record, combined with the high expectations that owner Michele Kang has for a winning side.
Parsons (37) coached the Spirit in 2013-2015—moving up from the Reserves side late in the season and making the playoffs the next two seasons—and was fantastically successful in Portland (making the playoffs in each of his five seasons there and winning the NWSL Shield in 2016 and 2021 and the league title in 2017) before a disastrous brief stint coaching the Netherlands for a year ahead of and at the 2022 EUROS. He should not be out of a job long—if Jorge Vilda can be hired within a month by Morocco (what was their federation thinking, as a replacement for the magnificent Frenchman Reynald Pedros, which we will discuss latter this year)—likely with expansion side Boston or even in Houston and Louisville, which both need a coach for 2024.
The end of the season stretch was a rough one as, in their last seven games, they gained six points (one win and three ties) out of 21 points. The Spirit lost in their last game 1-0 to the Courage in Cary to seal their fate of missing the playoffs. Trinity Rodman was given a straight red card for tripping Irish international Denise O'Sullivan in the 23rd minute, leaving the field in tears, and the team never seemed to adjust to her loss in a dis-spirted (sorry for the pun) performance. Parsons was not on the sideline during the game because of a yellow-card suspension. Mike Bristol, a former assistant to GM Mark Krikorian at Florida State, ran the team.
Despite a fearsome tracking trio of Trinity Rodman, Ashley Sanchez and Ashley Hatch, Washington failed to score in four of its final five matches and scored just over a goal a game on average (26 in 22 games) for ninth in the league. Washington was unbeaten through their first seven matches and later boasted a 6-1-5 (W-D-L) record, but with four starters away with the U.S. national team at the World Cup, their slide started. Even after those players returned, the Spirit continued to struggle.
Ashley Hatch, who really should have been on the WWC team (See: The Week in Women's Football: World Cup Groups review; Benfica enter Gotham partnership; NWSL check - Tribal Football) finished third in the league in scoring with nine goals, followed by Ashley Sanches and Trinity Rodman—who both made the WWC Finals—with five goals. More will be looked for from French international Forward Ouleymata Saar of France in 2024, who had one goal in her seven regular season games after moving from Paris FC this summer. Chloe Ricketts (16) scored for the U.S. under-17 national team in a 2-0 win over Japan in the first of two games at the Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California on September 22. The U.S. fought back from a 2-0 deficit in the second game two days later, to tie Japan 3-3, with new NWSL signing Alex Pfeiffer scoring a hat trick (see more below).
Look for major offseason international acquisitions for the Spirit 2024, possibly from England, as the team President of Soccer Operations and GM Mark Krikorian has international contacts in Europe and other regions from his time coaching in the WUSA, where he brought a raft of imports to Florida State, where he won three national titles, after winning two in the 1990's at the Division II level with Franklin Pierce University.
Racing Louisville FC (6-9-7, 27 points, Ninth)
Racing still amazingly still retained an outside chance of making the playoffs for the first time in their three year history on the last day of the regular season and there were some positives to take away from this season with a record number of wins (albeit only six) and attendance was stable (5,099 down slightly from 6,048 in 2022) but Swedish Coach Kim Björkegren couldn't survive the club's change in their usually high patience level as he was dismissed on October 27.
Björkegren will return home to Europe to pursue other opportunities there—which should be in abundance with his experience coaching in the States, China, Cyprus and Sweden as the players largely speak quite highly of him—while general manager Ryan Dell and Racing Louisville immediately began a global search for the team's next head coach. It will be interesting to see if Racing bring in another coach from abroad or hires someone with NWSL experience. The decision to fire Bjorkegren shows that the club is becoming more serious about their women's side, which has not always been the feeling from an organization where the men's USL Champions (second division) side Louisville City FC has two USL Championship titles and two Runners-up finishes in their six previous seasons (averaging over 10,000 fans a game in 2021 and 2022) and always seems the priority since Racing began in the 2021 NWSL season.
On August 19, in a comeback 1-1 draw with Angel City, Racing did draw a record crowd of 10,214 fans at Lynn Family Stadium as Kirsten Davis scored in the 79th minute.
Forward Kirsten Davis set career marks this season for Racing, tallying five goals and two assists across all competitions (4 goals in the regular season).
Paige Mongahan, a U.S. U-23 international who joined the side this season after four seasons with Gotham FC, added three goals while Savannah De Melo, who made the U.S. WNT this summer, led the team with five goals with three players joint on two goals: New Zealand international Abby Ercig, South African Thembi Kgatlana and China's Wang Shuang, the latter two made their respective countries WWC Finals teams this past summer.
Racing's defense was tied for fourth best in the league with only 24 goals allowed—with OL Reign and Gotham FC--but they only scored 25 as a team, tied for tenth with Gotham FC. With a new coaching coming on for 2024, there could be a wholesale roster turnover in the offseason but Danish international Nadia Nadim (35), who has been injured much of the past two seasons, seems to be one to hang onto as, when she is healthy, she is a devastating scorer in this league.
Houston Dash (6-8-8, 26 points, Tied for Tenth)
Amazingly, the Dash entered their last game of the season versus Orlando in Florida with an albeit remote chance to make the playoffs for the second time ever, after qualifying in 2022. Another coach was dismissed by the Dash, this time in September as first year head Sam Laity lost his job. Sarah Lowdon, who did well last season as an interim head coach, stepped in again and saw the team score four goals in her four games with two of them victories (25% of their 16 goals all season—the lowest team total in the league).
Lowdon was an interim head coach after Clarkson was dismissed last year and then was the lead assistant to Juan Carlos Amorós to finished the season, as the franchise made the playoffs for the first time ever (they also won the Challenge Cup during the COVID year of 2020, which was the major competition that season but without fans. Lowdon was named the first assistant earlier this year following a new contract for the Newcastle, England native. She has prior coaching stops at Penn State, Sam Houston State and the University of Florida and is also currently a candidate for the 2023 USSF Pro License.
She served as an instructor at the United Soccer Coaches Convention in 2020 and was a presenter at the event in 2022 and 2023. Sam Laity's termination was a shock and sent a clear message to any college coach or assistant coach in a stable situation to not touch a NWSL head coaching job with a bargepole—at least not in the NWSL (Laity had been an assistant in Seatle with the Reign since the league's first year in 2013). At the time of his dismissal, the Dash was six points out of the playoffs in tenth and ended up in a tie for tenth and five points away from a post season spot. Laity was the Dash's fourth full-time head coach after Randy Waldrum and Vera Pauw, both head coaches at the 2023 Women's World Cup, and James Clarkson, who was suspended in April 2022 by the league after allegations of verbal abuse. Laity finished with a 4-8-6 (W-D-L) record in the regular season 2-0-4 in the Challenge Cup and 6-8-10 overall
General manager Alex Singer told the media on September 6. "This was the best time as we continue to push for a postseason run… We will always stand by putting them [the players] in the best position possible to be successful. That means sometimes in difficult situations or when difficult decisions need to be made, we stand by doing that wholeheartedly. We have high expectations and very clear goals. We came off a historic season last year, making the playoffs for the first time in the team's history and performing at a very high level. That's one that we wish to not only sustain but increase. We also worked very hard to bring in and invest in key pieces and players to build on to that talent to our core roster that we had, and we continue to build. After considerable evaluation, we had to make a difficult decision that reflected the needs of the players. That's my priority and my responsibility to make sure that they're in the best position to be successful on the field and when they arrive every day. We haven't been performing to expectations…We want to thank Sam for his contributions to the team and we sincerely wish him all the best."
Alex Singer also said: "There are a lot of things that go into management and the management of players and building a team. Sometimes something is missing within those relationships, and it's a few things that were both on and off the field."
Given how things turned out this season, Singer added that, "most definitely we will be looking for a coach who does have head coaching experience." A follow-up question was about the possibility of the Dash next hiring a female coach but Singer replied: "Right now the priority is finding the best possible coach that we can to lead this team. Absolutely, I would be thrilled to bring on a female head coach. It's absolutely a goal as we build our staff, but I would say the priority is to find the best possible person who can lead this team."
Houston Dash President Jessica O'Neill (who previously was an executive with the NFL's Carolina Panthers and MLS's Charlotte FC, explained that the coaching decision for a franchise that has never really been seen as very stable and not always a preferred destination for players: "This is a difficult decision to make at any point and in any role. This is a reflection of the ambitions that this club has. We haven't veered away from these ambitions, since the very beginning, since I arrived last March, about 18 months ago. We want to win on and off the field. We want this to be a destination of choice for the top in the world; that's players, coaches, staff, business operations, etc. When we bring these incredible people in, retaining the talent is just as important. That's a lot of what Alex [Singer] is talking about from a roster-building standpoint. There's a core group of incredible players and athletes that are here."
Singer touched on the stability issue for the Dash when she said, "It's definitely disappointing that this didn't work out. I will acknowledge that. I do feel that long term, this group and the team in general needs stability and structure in order to achieve everything that we want to. Sometimes the way that things play out, they don't go exactly as you imagine. That is where I need to step in and do my due diligence in my role to make a decision at a time that is difficult to do so. Because we knew that this potentially was not the long-term solution, it didn't make any sense in my mind to continue. Rather than go about the process and the rest of the season, since we did know, we felt it was best to make a timely decision. We act when we have a feeling, and we have done considerable evaluation at this time. My goal continues to be to provide stability and structure to the group moving forward, but at this time, this was the best decision for the group. That's why we did it now."
For the NWSL with its perceived endemic behavioral problems with coaches in the past, the question inevitable came up early in the press conference about whether any mistreatment of players was involved in the decision, but Singer was emphatic that this was not the case: "No. I want to be very clear. Absolutely not. There was nothing related to the treatment of players. I want to make sure that is very, very clear."
When asked if the decision was based only on the team's performance, Singer added: "It's a combination of both. I will say that we have very clear goals on the pitch, but we also have clear goals off the pitch, and part of the process to be successful in bringing championships and trophies to Houston is that process. Yes, 100 percent, the results don't reflect where we want to be. I will make that very clear, especially with the roster that we have and continue to build. But I will say that there are a lot of things that go into management and the management of players and building a team. Sometimes something is missing within those relationships, and it's a few things that were both on and off the field."
Nigerian international and 2023 WWC Finalist Michelle Alozie had four goals this season, tied with Mexican international Maria Sanchez, while her fellow Mexican international Diana Ordonez had three. No other player had more than one and they need to boost their scoring in 2024. Jane Campbell (27) was stellar in goal all season in her seventh season with the club and should receive more consideration at the national team level with the upcoming new WNT coach coming on.
On September 8, the Dash completed the transfer of forward Ebony Salmon to Aston Villa F.C. for an undisclosed fee, where English international and long-time former Dash star Rachel Daly plays. Salmon just missed the WWC Finals team for England this summer, with the feeling prevalent that being Stateside didn't help her visibility and ultimate case. Salmon said: "I've really enjoyed my time in Houston, a city and a club that gave me an opportunity to do what I enjoy most. To everyone involved with the club, thank you for making me feel so welcome from the beginning and for the continued support throughout my time here. I wish the Dash the best of luck in the future."
She came to the Dash on June 27, 2023 and scored 11 goals with two assists in 36 appearances in all competitions—she will be missed.
Kansas City Current (8-2-12—26 points; tied for tenth)
After the season, the Current announced that interim head coach Caroline Sjoblom (34), a native of Finland who has coached in Sweden for years, will not return in 2024, amid continuing speculation since the World Cup Finals that Kansas City resident and former U.S. WNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski would take the job ahead of the team moving into their own purpose-built soccer stadium for women next season. (Note: Vlatko was confirmed as the Current new head coach on October 23.) She stepped in for Matt Potter after the first two games of the season and finished 8-2-9 in the league and 12-3-11 overall and made the Challenge Cup semifinals for the second consecutive year but the final finish was disappointing (for me, see: See: The Week in Women's Football: Are Sydney FC the A-League's greatest? KC Current coach axe - Tribal Football and:
The Week in Women's Football: NWSL results (PII); Watts buys into Burnley; W-League expansion - Tribal Football). One of the highlights of their season was scoring six goals in their final home match of the season against Chicago (6-3) in front of a team record crowd of 15,671 at Children's Mercy Park, home of the MLSSporting Kansas City.
The Current also had a good run in the Challenge Cup, making the semifinals in early August with a 3-0 win over Racing Louisville to take the Central Division title for the second straight season. Kristen Hamilton scored two goals and tied the all-time career Challenge Cup record set by Debinha (12). The game attracted 9,321 fans at Children's Mercy Park.
After the game Sjoblom said: "We were aggressive, we had energy and also very brave on the ball tonight. I think this shows to the fans and everyone looking tonight that we have a good style of play. The players have jumped on the journey to be more of a possession team but also be very aggressive when we are off the ball, out of possession."
On September 1, French international forward Claire Lavogez (29) was activated from the NWSL Season Ending Injury (SEI) list. She has 35 caps for her country with three international goals. Lavogez signed to the Current in July of 2022 and made nine regular season appearances for the club, with seven starts. She finished her first season in the NWSL with two goals and an assist. She finished the season with four appearances. She should be an impact player in 2024.
Three players from Kansas City were named to the August NWSL Best XI, as voted on by the NWSL Media Association membership, presented by Mastercard, goalkeeper AD Franch, midfielder Lo'eau LaBonta and forward Kristen Hamilton. Franch led the way in August with two wins and a draw in three starts across all competitions. LaBonta returned from injury and was a significant presence again in midfield; she completed 108 of her 134 passes (81 percent) across three matches and scored her first goal of the season in a draw away against the Houston Dash from the penalty spot. Hamilton had two goals during the month (see above).
Brazilian international Debinha scored nine regular season goals while CeCe Kizer added six. Twenty-year-old U.S. youth international Michelle Cooper had three, one in the Challenge Cup and also one in the U-20 WWC Finals late last year in a 3-0 win over Ghana in Costa Rica, their only win as the Americans fell at the group stage.
The Current signed two world class defenders during the WWC break—one from Europe and one from South America. Stine Ballisager Pedersen has a long history with the Danish national teams, appearing 45 times at the senior level, with 43 starts She helped the Danes to the Finals of the 2017 UEFA Women's Championship and anchored the back line at this year's World Cup. Brazil's Lauren has 11 caps for Brazil since her debut in September of 2021. Expect more international signings as, on August 31, the Current acquired an international roster slot for the remainder of the 2023 season from the San Diego Wave in exchange for $20,000 in allocation money.
Late in the season, the Current signed young but extremely talented current U.S. U-17 international Alex Pfeiffer, who doesn't turn 16 until this November. She was the first played signed under the league's Under-18 entry mechanism.
Team General Manager Camille Ashton said: "Alex is a tremendous talent [that] we are so excited to bring to the Current. We believe she has the ability to impact this team for many years to come and are thrilled she chose to take this next step in her career to continue her development with us in KC."
At 15 years and 338 days when she signed, she is the fourth -youngest signing ever in league history. She has played for the U.S. at the U-15, U-16 and U-17 level. Pfeiffer helped the U16 USWNT to a championship in the Mondial Montaigu Tournament in France and the U15 USWNT to a championship in the 2022 CONCACAF Girls Championship. In September with the U-17's, she scored three goals within 35 minutes of a 3-3 tie against Japan. Pfeiffer played club soccer for St. Louis Scott Gallagher in the ECNL. She was named the ECNL U17 Player of the Year in 2023 as she helped her team win their second straight national title. Her list of accolades also includes ECNL All-Conference and All-American honors for the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 seasons.
An off-the-field negative was that the Current was fined by the league for a figure reportedly more than $55,000 for taking a charter flight in July, which the NWSL didn't want discussed publicly. The Current flew from KC to Louisville on July 6 prior to the game on July 7. The Current released a statement to The Athletic and their stellar soccer writer Meg Linehan that said: "This decision was made to protect the health and safety of our players. With no direct flights to Louisville, multiple injuries, and our third away game in less than two weeks (which included multiple coast-to-coast time changes, 100 degree heat in Orlando and Portland's turf fields), our focus was on the well-being of our players. In addition, the cost wasn't appreciably higher than flying commercial and some players would have had to fly on the 5th (a day earlier), with an additional hotel stay, adding costs and strain on the players."
The game against Racing was the last of three straight road games for the Current, after visits to Orlando on June 24 and Portland on July 1. The league is worried about competitive balance. Meg Linehan wrote: "There's no specific guidance on the use of charter flights in the league's collective bargaining agreement with the NWSL Players Association. Section 12.1 of the document states, 'Team travel greater than three hundred and fifty (350) miles shall be by air on regular commercial carriers, when reasonably practical.' Teams are also required to use 'reasonable efforts' to book direct flights and keep players out of middle seats."
However, Linehan found that the NWSL does in fact have a charter flight policy that is not public and not in their league operations manual. The policy allows for teams to book charter flights under certain limited scenarios with league approval, including a lack of direct flights at suitable times during a run of back-to-back games (a weekend-midweek-weekend combo). There's also a carve-out for postseason games, and teams have the ability to request charter flights in an "emergency," which could include hazardous weather, a medical situation, or other scenarios. The policy states that the final decision lies with the commissioner.
In Kansas City's case, the games occurred on a Saturday, the next Saturday and the next Friday, meaning they did not qualify for a charter flight unless given approval for an emergency request; thus, the NWSL fined the team. In June, the league fined then Chicago Red Stars head coach Chris Petrucilli an undisclosed amount under the policy concerning "prejudicial statements and public criticism" simply for asking via a tweet sent during a lengthy flight delay, "When do the charters start in this league?" Clearly the league office is sensitive to this issue and wants all discussion about it to go away.
The WNBA has struggled with the same issues as the New York Liberty and was fined over $500,000 for using unapproved charter flights repeatedly in 2021, among other infractions. Like the NWSL, WNBA players mostly fly commercial, but they have been more vocal about wanting greater access to charter flights. Phoenix Mercury and U.S. Olympic Gold Medal winner Brittney Griner—back this season after spending eight months in a Russian prison for allegedly bringing illegal vape cartridges with her back to Russia last year when she returned to her Russian League team—was accosted in an airport during a team layover. As more investments are made in the NWSL, there will be more competitions and more demands put on players and charter flights are a natural next step, though it is expensive.
WNBA commissioner Cathy Englebert said that the league spent $4 million on charter travel during the postseason, for the Commissioner's Cup championship game, and select regular season games, such as when teams play back-to-back. ESPN estimated this year that for the 12 WNBA teams across 40 regular season games and playoffs could cost the league $25 million. That is a useful benchmark for the NWSL which had 28 regular season and Challenge Cup games this year (14 away) but teams have larger rosters than does basketball.
Last year, NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman addressed the possibility of charter flights ahead of last season's championship in Washington, D.C.: "I think there's a time and a place for charter flights, and I think everybody universally could recognize that they're insanely expensive… We need to be thoughtful about how and when they're used, and be clear with our teams about what our position is and work on this together."
Meghann Burke, executive director of the NWSL Players Association, said that charter flights were not a primary issue to the league's players during the most recent CBA negotiations (concluded early in 2022) compared with salaries, free agency and health and safety. Burke did say in May of 2022: player salaries, free agency and other major health and safety issues: "Someday, I hope we can talk about charter flights, but that day was not today."
The league has been dealing with player abuse issues over the past couple of years, expansion and other logistic issues, but this issue is vital to the league's growth and the NWSL showed a lot of inflexibility towards the Current with this hefty fine, and their attempt to keep it quiet. They talk about competitive balance but as some of the historically weaker franchises attract more financially viable ownership groups (i.e., Chicago and the former Sky Blue franchise in New Jersey/New York among others), this issue becomes more important and a sign of professionalism for not only the NWSL but women's sports as well.
Chicago Red Stars (7-3-12, 24 points, Twelfth)
It was always going to be a chaotic year for the Red Stars (or Dead Stars as one college coach refers to them) with the club up for sale and players viewing Chicago as a last choice destination. In 2024, there will be new owners and a new head coach. Three days after the side was eliminated from the 2023 playoffs in their 6-3 loss to KC Current, October 7, head coach Chris Petrucelli announced that he would not be back for a third year. The Red Stars finished with a 9-7-6 (W-D-L) record in 2022 and squeaked into playoffs but was dreadful this season with a leaky defense, giving up 50 goals—the worst team total in the league—and 14 more than eleventh place Kansas City with 36 goals allowed. Assistant coach Ella Masar became interim head coach for the last game of the season, a 3-0 loss to OL Reing. Masar was an assistant coach with the Kansas City Current in 2022, won one cap for the U.S. and played in WPS and the NWSL. She also played abroad in Germany, Norway and Sweden, with fans fondly remembering her spell with Rosenborg in Malmo where she scored 26 goals in 39 appearances in two seasons.
Cheyna Matthews, a two-time Jamaica WWC Finals player, has retired from the sport. She played at Florida State University and for five seasons with the Washington Spirit before joining Racking Louisville in 2021. In eight years in the NWSL, she played in 88 matches, finishing with 13 goals and four assists.
Off the field, former owner Arnim Whisler, who was pilloried in the Yates Report on player abuse in the NWSL for essentially turning his back on multiple player concerns about former coach Rory Dames for a decade, is gone. Laura Ricketts, co-owner of the baseball Chicago Cubs and a minority owner of the WNBA's Chicago Sky, led a group that has acquired the team. Ricketts said: "We wholeheartedly believe in and are excited about the future of the Red Stars and the NWSLT here is unprecedented fan growth in women's soccer globally, and we want to be a part of building on that momentum here in Chicago."
The family is highly respected and Ricketts' older brother Pete Ricketts is a U.S. senator from Nebraska and her younger brother Tom is the chairman of the Cubs. The sale price was reported to be $35.5 million—an impressive figure for a team that was strong on the field but an underperformer off of it.
Hopefully, with the Cubs and Sky playing more centrally in Chicago, the new owners will figure out a long-term stadium solution for the Red Stars. They currently play in a southern suburb of Bridgeview, in a nice stadium that was the former home of the Chicago Fire of MLS, who moved to downtown Soldier Field starting with the 2020 season (paying a $65.5 million buyout of their lease with Bridgeview). The Fire still plays some games in their former home (such as Leagues Cup with Liga MX sides and U.S. Open Cup matches, that are traditionally mid-week games and attract smaller crowds).
The Bridgeview Stadium is not on public transportation (bus or train) routes which limits the ability of younger residents of the city and suburbs to attend games. One highlight of the season was Chicago's second half comeback on September 17 to tie Angel City 2-2 in front of a World Cup Welcome Back match of 8,961 fans—a strong crowd for the franchise but the potential for much larger crowds in a more central location is certainly possible in this strong soccer city. Overall, the Red Stars have averaged 4,033 fans per game in 2023 for last in the NWSL, a steep decline of 30% from their 5863 average in 2022, when they finished seventh in the 12 team league in attendance.
Currently, the Fire and Red Stars both train out of Bridgeview, though the Fire will move into a new training facility in the city's Near West Side in the summer of 2024. Ricketts' involvement does raise the idea that the Red Stars could play games at Wrigley Field, where this reporter saw many NASL Chicago Sting games in the 1980's—which is a great setting if you sit in the raised outfield seats.
Ricketts also spoke to the unfortunate history of the club with players after the sale was announced: "They deserve more… and they're gonna get it under this ownership group. Our very first meeting will be with the players and introduce ourselves, tell them what we're about. Why we bought this team, why we're interested in it. I think that'll be a fairly brief introduction. The most important thing is I want to hear them. I want to listen to them, and I want to build a relationship with them. A relationship of trust and respect and those things take time, and I want to get started on it right away."