Rook­ies get off on right foot

Six red stars earn first NWSL start; three more MAKE league de­but vs. Thorns

Chicago Sun-Times - - RED STARS BEAT - BY AN­NIE COSTA­BILE acosta­bile@sun­ @an­niecosta­bile

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.

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