When newly appointed Chicago Red Stars coach Rory Dames asked Julie Ewing to join his team this summer, it provided the Batavia graduate an opportunity to play alongside some of the region’s best collegiate players in a somewhat nostalgic role.
Before attending the University of Illinois, Ewing was typically a midfielder or forward for Dames’ Eclipse Select Soccer Club. Ewing has primarily been an outside defender on the Fighting Illini’s back line during the last three years.
This summer has been different.
With a deep knowledge of her strengths, especially, according to Dames, “her rare creativeness and cleverness on the field,” Ewing has been playing outside-midfielder for the Red Stars this summer.
Playing for Dames once again and a switch to midfield, although it will likely be temporary, has made Ewing’s experience of playing for the Red Stars invigorating.
“There were a lot of appeals [especially] getting back to playing with Rory and the Eclipse environment that I grew up in and where I’m comfortable,” Ewing said. “It was definitely a plus to get further up the field and back to where I played growing up.”
Ewing’s familiarity with Dames – he was the soon-to-be senior’s coach for years at Eclipse – landed her a spot with the Red Stars in the newly formed Women’s Premier Soccer League, which the team transitioned to this season after leaving professional soccer because of financial difficulties.
“I really didn’t even know at first who I was going to be playing with,” Ewing said of her summer plans. “I just played with Rory growing up and he asked me what I was doing this summer and I said ‘Playing with you, again.’ And it turns out it was for the Red Stars and I couldn’t be any happier.
“I loved the environment of Eclipse and I knew if Rory was going to do the Red Stars thing, he was going to be getting the same kind of players. [The team consists of] just a bunch of competitive people and I love playing in that type of environment.”
The Red Stars’ roster includes Ewing and two of her teammates at Illinois – Vanessa DiBernardo and Shayla Mutz, both of whom scored a goal in the Red Stars’ 2-0 win over FC Milwaukee National on Thursday – as well as several other players from the Tri-Cities.
St. Charles North graduates Jamie Forbes (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) and Taylor Vancil (Louisville) are the team’s goalkeepers. Geneva graduates Jackie Santacaterina (Illinois graduate, 2010 Red Stars draftee) and Sammy Scofield (Notre Dame) play defense for the Red Stars.
In constructing such a talented team, one of the biggest challenges facing Dames and the Red Stars (1-1) has been finding cohesion within the squad.
“I definitely think that our first game was a wake-up call for all of us, that we need to start practicing together,” Ewing said of the Red Stars’ 1-0 loss to Minnesota Kings FC. “As a team, it’s a lot of great players that I get to play with, we just haven’t played together. So I think these past couple weeks we’ve focused on getting to know each other as players and learning more about each others’ style of play.”
Ewing has also had to re-acclimate herself to an attacking role. It’s something which Dames can see she is gradually becoming more comfortable with as the season progresses.
“Each week, she’s got a little bit better and she’s looked a little bit more like herself as far as being willing to take risks, take people on and do those things,” Dames said. “But when you haven’t done it for a while, it takes a while to get your confidence back. [Thursday] night was by far her best performance of the year so far. Anytime you transition from the back-line to ease back into an attacking role that’s more creative, it takes a little bit of time.
“[But] Julie’s a fantastic player and what she’s able to do and the way she’s able to do it. ... You just don’t come across many girls like that.”