The Chicago Red Stars were right at home at the 2019 NWSL College Draft on Thursday, Jan. 10, at the United Soccer Coaches Convention at McCormick Place in Chicago.
The Red Stars welcomed seven new players to their team for the 2019 season – including the first overall pick, Tierna Davidson out of Stanford University.
Red Stars head coach Rory Dames said getting Davidson was “like another Christmas present.” Luckily for Dames and the Red Stars, their tree had plenty of presents under it at this year’s draft. In addition to picking up the 2018 U.S. Soccer Young Female Player of the Year, the Red Stars also selected Maria Sanchez (No. 15 overall) from the University of Santa Clara, Bianca St. Georges (No. 20 overall) from West Virginia University, Kayla Sharples (No. 26) from Northwestern University, April Bockin (No. 31 overall) from the University of Minnesota, Hannah Davison (No. 33) from Northwestern University and Jenna Szczesny (No. 35 overall) from Loyola University Chicago.
“In a World Cup year having as many good players as you can is important,” Dames told NWSL Media after the draft, “and the fact that Hannah and [Kayla] and Jenna all live here is a huge bonus.”
Davison, Sharples and Szczesny don’t have to worry about venturing to a new city to start their professional careers. The local trio brought a roar of excitement from Red Stars fans in the Skyline Ballroom.
“With Hannah and Kayla, it’s exciting to see it come full circle. I take a lot of pride in watching kids that come through the [Chicago] Eclipse Soccer Club and then gravitate up through to college and have the opportunity to play at this level,” Dames said, as the longtime director of coaching for Chicago Eclipse Soccer Club. “All three of them, which is the bigger thing here, played on our [Chicago Red Stars] reserve team the last two years. The reserve team is an important part of our developmental piece for the Red Stars.”
“I’m so happy to be home. It’s a dream come true to be where I grew up and started playing soccer, where I have the best support system ever in my family. It’s very exciting and I couldn’t be happier,” Sharples said after the draft.
A big day in Chicago.
— NWSL (@NWSL) January 11, 2019
There’s a certain understanding that Dames said these three players already have instilled in them just from being on the reserve team.
“I think the last piece here is that they have been with the Red Stars, so they already know what it’s about so to be able to pull them from the reserve team to our team is exciting and it shows a natural progression.”
The draft picks got a warm welcome from current Red Stars players – longtime Chicago resident and Red Stars midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo attended the draft and couldn’t stop smiling, cheering and feeling slightly envious of the future picks since she never went to her own.
— Vanessa DiBernardo (@vdibernardo10) January 10, 2019
“It’s exciting! Especially that it’s here in Chicago,” DiBernardo told NWSL Media about what her first impression of the event was. “I didn’t go to my draft, so this is actually my first one. So it’s cool to see the set up and it’s exciting for all the girls that entered the draft to hopefully continue their careers.”
That “they already know what it’s about” quote that Dames’ said Davison, Sharples and Szczesny all understand from just coming through the Red Stars reserve team, is something that DiBernardo says has kept her and several of her teammates with the club.
“It’s a great culture here and I love being a part of this team. I think that’s something that you can see within our draft picks — that they just have stuck around. There are a lot of us that are still here from the beginning, so our careers have started and continued at the same club which is really fun.”
DiBernardo was selected No. 4 overall at the 2014 NWSL College Draft by the Red Stars. She joined Dames’ squad after playing for him at the WPSL and club level. That same year, Dames also added another key player to his squad that has stuck around and held down the midfield next to DiBernardo, Julie Ertz. This past season these two led the Red Stars to a 9-5-10 overall record which was good for a fourth place finish.
Whether it’s Ertz blocking and tackling and finding an outlet in DiBernardo to play through to Golden Boot winner Sam Kerr up front, or it’s the the tireless work done all over the field by midfielder Danielle Colaprico to find ways to keep the ball, the Red Stars have a squad of veterans who will continue to work for one another. Both Colaprico and longtime Red Stars defender Arin Gilliland joined the Red Stars at the 2015 NWSL College Draft. Each year, the Red Stars have selected at least one player at the NWSL College Draft that has returned the following year.
Davidson said one of the main reasons she’s excited to come to Chicago is for the special culture.
“They definitely helped me in my decision,” she said of her new Red Stars teammates, in a conference call with reporters after being selected No. 1 overall. Davidson is in Portugal with the U.S. women’s national team, alongside several Red Stars teammates like Ertz and Colaprico. “They gave me a lot of good advice, the inner workings of the team, what the team culture was like, the personality of players on the team and they really helped me take a first person look into the team without actually being there, which was incredibly helpful. They’ve definitely welcomed me in really well and I already feel a part of the team.”