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2013 NWSL team preview: Chicago Red Stars

Apr 12, 2013, 9:12 PM EST

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Over the next two days, ProSoccerTalk will be providing quick capsules of the eight teams participating in the new National Women’s Soccer League. Next up is another return entrant from Women’s Professional Soccer, the Chicago Red Stars.

Joining Sky Blue, Boston, and Western New York, the Red Stars are one of four NWSL clubs that participated in WPS, even if Chicago elected to pass on the league’s final season in 2011. Since then the club has been playing the Women’s Premier Soccer League, losing in the 2011 final before duplicating the feat in 2012′s WPSL Elite.

Such was the world of semi-pro soccer that a professional-caliber organization could drop down and come within two hairs of winning consecutive titles. Now back at their level, the Red Stars will find things more difficult. In the crapshoot that was NWSL allocation, Chicago ended up with the short end of the stick, and after taking a draft pick in exchange Keelin Winters — a talented midfielder who played at a position of depth — the Red Stars are left with a solid but older team, one that has questions everywhere but goal.

In a league of new teams that have only had four weeks to prepare for the season, that’s a description that could be applied to most NWSL clubs. That means if everything clicks, Chicago will make the playoffs, outperforming teams who can’t find solutions. And if they don’t, the Red Stars will finish in the league’s lower half.

Who you know: While FC Kansas City (previewed earlier) may lack superstars, Chicago lacks stars of any variety. Their biggest name is Shannon Boxx (pictured), a regular in central midfield for the U.S. national team but somebody whose been away from the team throughout preseason. It’s unclear how she’ll perform in a midfield with former Boston Breaker Leslie Osborne, someone who can play a very similar role.

The defense has question marks without Amy LePeilbet, the two-time WPS Defender of the Year who is out for the season. Erin McLoud, one of the best shot-stoppers in the league, may have to be Chicago’s best player for the team to have a chance at the playoffs.

Lori Chalupny is another name, the former U.S. international returning to Chicago after helping them to the 2012 WPSLE final. The 29-year-old could be one of the league’s better all-around midfielders, providing the type of leadership that can help a new group of come together quickly.

Who you should know: The Red Stars surprised some when they made Zakiya Bywaters the first pick in the College Draft, though shortly after her selection, Notre Dame coach Randy Waldrum expressed his support. If he had the first pick in the draft, Waldrum said, he would have taken Bywaters, an attacker who Waldrum has coached while running the U-23 national team.

Bywaters is one of a number of potential goal scorers for the Red Stars – a slew of players who’ll be counted on to address Chicago’s biggest weakness. Mexican legend Maribel Dominguez and Ella Masar, returning to Chicago after a stint at Paris Saint-Germain, will also need to compensate for the lack of an elite goal scorer.

What it means: Though Chicago are without LePeilbet, the defense looks decent, and with a midfield that has talent that can defy its redundancies, the big question is scoring. Can the Red Stars find enough goals to get the three point-results that separate the postseason from the also-rans?

Chicago opens the NWSL season on Sunday against visiting Seattle.

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