Rookies get off on right foot
Six red stars earn first NWSL start; three more MAKE league debut vs. Thorns
When Red Stars rookie defender Julia Bingham lined up at outside back Wednesday against the Thorns in Utah, she wasn’t surprised whom she’d be defending the box against.
On one side, it was U.S. national team midfielder Lindsey Horan, and on the other, it was the all-time leading scorer in international soccer, Christine Sinclair.
Ahead of the match, Bingham sat in the locker room nervous about making her professional debut, but as she took the field, a calm rushed over her with the sound of the first whistle.
That moment is what she had prepared for her whole life.
“It’s motivating to go against these stud athletes,” Bingham said. “I thought at the backline we did really well with competing and defending as a unit.”
In total, six Red Stars earned their first NWSL start against the Thorns, with three more seeing their first minutes as substitutes, helping the team earn its first point of the tournament in a scoreless draw.
The Red Stars tout a deep rookie class, and coach Rory Dames has said since the Challenge Cup began that his team is more focused on growth and staying healthy than winning the tournament. A key to that growth is getting his seven rookies playing time.
Bingham was part of the Red Stars’ 2020 draft class, along with Camryn Biegalski, Zoe Morse, Ella Stevens and Aerial Chavarin, who was cut ahead of the tournament. During training camp, Dames added three trialist players (Zoe Redei, Sarah Luebbert and Cassie Rohan) who earned contracts for the tournament.
“We’ve been dealing with a lot socially away from soccer,” Dames said. “The maturity level on how they’ve handled themselves in some very difficult circumstances while at the same time trying to try out and make a professional team, I think that’s the thing that’s jumped out at me the most.”
The thrill of being drafted that Bingham, Biegalski, Morse and Stevens felt was short-lived.
In the same week training began, it was postponed because of the coronavirus, and they were back living at home without contracts secured and any real promise of a 2020 season. The most challenging part of returning home after only a few short days on the field with their new team was staying ready for when training camp restarted.
“It was great to get back training after the season was paused,” Stevens said. “But at the same time, none of us had a contract. There was still that pressure to prove yourself. I tried not to think about it.”
At that point, the group had spent only a week with their new teammates, not including the USWNT players who weren’t back in the market yet. They had less time to develop chemistry on the field during training camp, but they were creating a bond off of it.
Stevens, Bingham, Morse and Chavarin lived together for the duration of training camp in an Airbnb in West Town. When they weren’t training, they were spending time taking walks through their new neighborhood, watching Netflix and relaxing together at home.
“Being in that space where we were able to have really important conversations with each other helped us grow closer, quicker,” Morse said.
These bonds extend beyond their rookie class.
Most of them wondered what the dynamic would be like on a team comprised of some of the biggest stars in women’s soccer. Veterans such as Casey Short, Julie Ertz, Sarah Gorden and others have provided valuable lessons for a group that has faced nothing but uncertainty thus far.
Whether the veterans are offering critiques of their game or examples of how to use their platform to advocate for change, the Red Stars rookies are taking notes.
“I don’t know how to put it into words how helpful they’ve been,” Morse said. “Their style of play and their level of play pushes us to just attempt to reach their level. I know I’m not there yet, but just the constant striving to be at their level, I’ve already seen tactical growth in myself.” ✶
Red Stars rookie defender Julia Bingham (right) was able to hold her ground against Simone Charley and the rest of the Thorns on Wednesday.