Chicago Red Stars: 2023 season in retrospect

• Chicago Red Stars had a tumultuous 2023 season due to some on-and off-field issues

Chicago Red Stars: 2023 season in retrospect
Chicago Red Stars celebrate Yuki Nagasato's goal against Washington Spirit at Audi Field in September / © Photo by Brad Smith / ISI Photos / Getty Images

·         The Sally Yates report provided a lingering dark cloud over the Red Stars ahead of the 2023 season

In 2023, Chicago Red Stars saw a record seven-season playoff streak come to an end, as they finished 12th on the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) standings. The Illinois side had never failed to take part in the playoffs since 2015.

The final standings at the end of the season, for Chicago Red Stars, were due to a combination of things, some of which were off the pitch. 

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One of the major off-field issues was the introduction of the NWSL’s first ever free agency period back in August 2022. The Red Stars felt the pain of learning the worst of any team in the league, having the biggest number of free agents depart the league. They lost four players, namely, Morgan Gautrat, Vanessa DiBernardo, Rachel Hill and Danielle Colaprico. 

They, however, managed to re-sign Arin Wright and Yuki Nagasato.

This was compounded by the retirement of Kealia Watt and the injury of Mallory Swanson in April on duty with the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT).

The 2023 NWSL championship started with a defeat for the Red Stars in March: a 3-2 result away to San Diego Wave. They would lose the next match 2-1 to Houston Dash at home before registering a 4-2 win over KC Current in mid April at home again.

The road ahead was still dark for the then head coach Chris Petrucelli, who went on to win just one match in their next five outings in the league. In that period, they also lost 2-0 to Houston Dash in the NWSL Challenge Cup away.

Chris Petrucelli was fired as head coach of Chicago Red Stars in October with one match to go in the NWSL season / © Photo by Ira L. Black - Corbis / Getty Images

They went on to win two matches in their next five encounters in the league in June.

That month, they suffered a blow, losing veteran defender Arin Wright and forward Penelope Hocking to injuries.

In July, they won just two of their four matches in all competitions, registering one-nil wins over San Diego Wave and Houston Dash in the league and a 2-0 win over Racing Louisville and a nil-all draw with KC Current in the Challenge Cup.

In August, it emerged that the club would be sold to a group of Chicago business leaders led by Laura Ricketts. Despite this having been the wish of the players and fans following the Sally Yates report in October 2022, the news of the sale would not improve the performances of the Red Stars, who went on to record a heavy 5-0 defeat away to Orlando Pride in the league.

The Yates report included the details of the abusive behaviour of former Red Stars coach Rory Dames and the alleged manner in which the then Red Stars owner Armin Whisler ignored or minimised complaints about the coach’s behaviour.

The Red Stars players had gone on to release a collective statement in the same month calling for the selling of the club to “a new majority owner who can help us realise the full potential that we as players always knew existed for this club.”

On 1 September, it was reported that the club had been sold for $60m to the group led by Ricketts. 

A group led by Laura Ricketts - a minority owner of the WNBA’s Chicago Sky and a co-owner of the MLB’s Chicago Cubs - finalised the acquisition of Chicago Red Stars for $60 million in September / © Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo / Getty Images

It would also inevitably be a period of considerable uncertainty for the club at large. There would be a short turn-around time for the new owners until the next season.

“We’re going to be attacking it all at once, honestly,” Ricketts told The Athletic back in August. “We really want to stand this team up and get in a really healthy, thriving place before the next season begins. We’re gonna have to . . . really dig in and figure out what has to be done immediately, and prioritise.”

In August, the Red Stars had been knocked out of the Challenge Cup in the group stages.

In September and October, the Red Stars won two of their five matches in the league, losing two and drawing one.

Petrucelli was fired as head coach ahead of their final match of the season against OL Reign in mid October, and was replaced by interim coach Ella Masar. 

They went on to lose the match 3-0 to OL Reign.

The Red Stars announced on Wednesday, 15 October 2023 that they have hired longtime sports executive and attorney Karen Leetzow as club president.

Read the official club statement: “The Chicago Red Stars have appointed accomplished sports executive and attorney Karen Leetzow as the club’s new president. Leetzow joins the Red Stars after serving as the chief legal officer of the U.S. Soccer Federation, where she oversaw the independent investigation into abuse and sexual misconduct in women’s soccer and also helped lead the successful negotiations for an agreement to ensure equal pay for the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team.”