Client: Chicago Red Stars

Source: Chicago Tribune

As the Chicago Red Stars look to rebuild their culture and stability, the team finally has filled an important position.

The Red Stars announced Wednesday that Lorne Donaldson, the former coach of the Jamaican women’s national team, is their new head coach. Under Donaldson’s tutelage, the Reggae Girlz went on a historic run in the World Cup last summer, becoming the first Caribbean nation to advance to the round of 16.

Donaldson, 68, will join the Red Stars in the coming weeks in preparation for the Jan. 12 NWSL draft. The 2024 season begins March 16.

Laura Ricketts, the Red Stars executive chairperson, noted in a statement Donaldson’s deep ties to some of the top U.S. players as president of the youth club Real Colorado.

“Lorne has a proven track record as a winning coach and an advocate for his athletes,” Ricketts said. “We believe he has the experience and leadership skills to elevate our talented group of players.”

The Red Stars’ turmoil over the last few years was rooted in former coach Rory Dames’ abusive and unprofessional behavior. Players raised complaints between 2014 and 2021 that were subsequently downplayed or dismissed by then-owner Armin Whisler. Those details were outlined in former U.S. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates’ 2022 report on the NWSL.

When Ricketts’ ownership group took over in September, establishing a culture of respect and rebuilding trust with players were among the priorities. Donaldson is now tasked with helping install those beliefs on the field during his multiyear contract.

“Lorne is the right person to lead us next season,” Red Stars President Karen Leetzow said in a statement. “Lorne’s experiences as a decorated player and as a winning coach on the youth, professional and international level will be invaluable for our players, coaches and staff who have the opportunity to learn from him.”

Donaldson replaces Chris Petrucelli, who took over after Dames stepped down in November 2021.

Donaldson will have his work cut out for him with a roster that needs to be built from the ground up. The Red Stars will need to replace defender and U.S. national team member Tierna Davidson, who reportedly will sign with Gotham FC. They drafted her out of Stanford in 2019.

Davidson is one of eight Red Stars unrestricted free agents. That group also includes U.S. standout Mallory Swanson, though it would not be a surprise to see her return and remain in the same city as her husband, Chicago Cubs shortstop Dansby Swanson.

U.S. goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher and midfielder Cari Roccaro are among those returning. Roccaro signed a two-year contract earlier this month.

The NWSL’s transaction window began at 8 a.m. Saturday and stays open until 5 p.m. Friday. It will close for the holiday and reopen Dec. 29.

“I’m excited to work with this talented team that includes some of the NWSL’s best players to turn the Chicago Red Stars into a championship club both on and off the pitch,” Donaldson said in a statement. “I look forward to partnering with Laura Ricketts and Karen Leetzow, who are committed to creating a culture of excellence and accountability. What I have most enjoyed in my career is coaching elite athletes and helping them reach and exceed their fullest potential.”

Donaldson spent three years with Jamaica’s national team as assistant head coach (2019) and head coach (2022-23). At the youth level, he coached Jamaica’s under-17 and under-20 teams in addition to Real Colorado.

He currently serves as president and executive coaching director of Real Colorado, where he helped develop NWSL stars such as the Portland Thorns’ Janine Beckie and Sophia Smith, Racing Louisville’s Jaelin Howell and Swanson.

During his playing career, Donaldson spent four years with the Jamaican national team before playing for Metropolitan State University in Denver, where he was a three-time Division II All-American.