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Savannah McCaskill praises Red Stars’ culture

The Red Stars have been focused on maintaining that reputation as a gritty team.

Savannah McCaskill
Savannah McCaskill #9 of Chicago Red Stars takes a free kick in the championship game of the NWSL Challenge Cup at Rio Tinto Stadium on July 26, 2020 in Sandy, Utah.
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

During a year of complete uncertainty, one thing that has remained constant has been the Red Stars’ identity.

Known by fans and opponents as one of the grittiest teams in the National Women’s Soccer League, the Red Stars have been focused on maintaining that reputation despite the start-and-stop of the 2020 season.

‘‘This club was always in the semifinals, always in the playoffs, but never broke through to the final until last year,’’ forward Savannah McCaskill said. ‘‘It’s been the same [mentality] for this year. We continue to show we’re a club that’s always going to be around, and we want to continue to be the best. Not only from a coaching perspective, but the players, too, want to win an NWSL championship next season.’’

McCaskill’s transition to the Red Stars in the middle of the 2019 season was chaotic. She didn’t say she wanted to play in Chicago, but it was a welcome surprise when she was notified of the trade. It was the morning of a training session with Sky Blue when she

was told she had the rest of the day to pack her belongings and catch a flight to Chicago that night.

McCaskill was at training the next day, and everything she had heard about the Red Stars proved to be true.

‘‘It was a bonus,’’ McCaskill said. ‘‘I was coming into an environment that was only going to make me better. I hit the ground running. [Coach] Rory [Dames] made it clear: ‘You’re here to perform. Let’s see what you’ve got.’ ’’

As the Red Stars’ coach for the last nine years, Dames has played a considerable role in the team earning respect on the field. He began coaching the Red Stars in 2011, when they played in the Women’s Premier Soccer League. His players describe him as a standard-holder and someone who doesn’t sugarcoat anything.

Forward Kealia Watt said Dames’ expectations have never changed.

‘‘I always dreaded playing [the Red Stars],’’ Watt said of her days with the Houston Dash. ‘‘They were known for being so tough and physical that it was never fun. Rory is always saying, ‘No matter what happens, we will be the hardest-working team on the field.’ ’’

The Red Stars’ vocal leaders also deserve credit for the team’s identity. Defender Julie Ertz demands excellence from her teammates every day, and McCaskill said the collection of veterans on the Red Stars has helped to provide a competitive training environment.

Chicago’s blue-collar identity also has seeped into the makeup of the team. McCaskill described hearing stories from veteran players about the character of the city and how the Red Stars mirrored that on the field.

‘‘Even in my short amount of time here, I know that [blue-collar mentality] is still a huge part of what it means to be on the Chicago Red Stars,’’ McCaskill said.

The Red Stars have the week off before playing their final game of the NWSL Fall Series against Sky Blue next Saturday.

Despite having no game to prepare for this week, the Red Stars’ training schedule hasn’t changed. It has been the typical two days on and one day off.

One thing that has been slightly different has been the competitiveness. McCaskill said the Red Stars have been less focused on the tactical side of things and have paid more attention to competing against each other in a seven-on-seven format.

‘‘Sky Blue has pace up top, and we have to be able to shut that down,’’ McCaskill said. ‘‘This past time that we played Sky Blue, we were able to score some goals. So hopefully this last game of the season, we can do the same.’’