Red Stars coach Rory Dames serves up some deep dish

Dames said it’s challenging every year to come up with a final roster, but the biggest difference this year is the number of players on the preseason roster who he believes could start on other NWSL teams.

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Annie Costabile/Sun-Times

When asked about players who stood out in the first four weeks of preseason training, Red Stars coach Rory Dames joked that the whole group is ahead of where they were last year.

The punchline being that the team wasn’t training at this point last year.

All humor aside, Dames exuded the same cool confidence in his players that he always does when evaluating them. He said the most notable difference between the 2021 team and previous versions is the level of competition.

“The concentration level of the players and the amount of work that they’re doing, what’s being put into the preseason just because of the competition for spots on the field, is certainly the highest it’s been,” Dames said.

Dames said it’s challenging every year to come up with a final roster, but the biggest difference this year is the number of players on the preseason roster who he believes could start on other NWSL teams. There is a level of consistency in each player’s performance that needs to be met to earn a spot on that final roster.

Dames added there’s certainly room for a bad day, but no one can afford to take a day off from an effort standpoint. The team has embraced this added level of in-house competition, even if it means difficult cuts are coming. They know in the end, depth will be their greatest attribute this year.

Typically Dames schedules multiple preseason matches, but this year, that has been challenging due to the different COVID-19 restrictions in place for NWSL and NCAA teams. The Red Stars hosted Loyola last weekend and have a match against Notre Dame in two weeks. Dames still is hoping to get at least one more preseason match scheduled in March.

Preseason matches are critical in the evaluation of different player combinations. Dames said they likely still will be assessing those combinations through the entirety of the Challenge Cup.

Right now, Dames can’t anticipate who the first 11 will be.

“By the time May comes, we want to have a good understanding of who we are and what we are,” Dames said.

The Red Stars will take significant strides towards getting that understanding in the next week when the entire roster is together for the first time since preseason began.

Due to a combination of COVID-19 travel protocols and a quarantine period, Julie Ertz did not report to training in Chicago before heading to camp with the national team ahead of the SheBelieves Cup.

While Dames did not have anything concrete to say about who the starting 11 will be, the expectation is that Ertz will be playing in the midfield.

Defender Bianca St. Georges was expected to be part of a robust backline that would allow Ertz to move to the midfield. But St. Georges tore her meniscus during camp with the Canadian National Team, and the Red Stars don’t have a timeline on her return.

Elsewhere, Emily Boyd is recovering well after tearing her ACL in October. The team doesn’t have a time frame on when she’ll be back, but Dames said she’s ahead of schedule.

Expectations continue to mount as the Red Stars get closer to the April 9 opener, but Dames approaches those expectations with the same conviction he always seems to carry when discussing his team.

“I don’t think we feel pressure,” Dames said. “We always want to win.”

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