Chicago Red Stars sign 3 NWSL rookies in continuation of focus on developing young talent

The Chicago Red Stars are bringing in a new wave of developing players by signing draft picks Leilanni Nesbeth and Jameese Joseph and USL W League product Nádia Gomes this week.

The Red Stars signed their top two draft picks in a continuation of the investment in a young core that began last season. The team traded up to draft Nesbeth at No. 10, then selected Joseph with the first pick in the second round (No. 15). Joseph’s pick was part of a trade that sent defender Arin Wright to Racing Louisville.

Nesbeth won two national championships with Florida State in 2021 and 2023, scoring 15 goals (five game-winners) and 14 assists on her way to earning 2023 NCAA All-Tournament and All-ACC second-team honors. Before college, Nesbeth logged time with Brighton & Hove Albion in the English Women’s Super League and had five goals in four caps for Bermuda.

Joseph had 24 goals and 10 assists for North Carolina State, with whom she earned All-ACC honors four times.

Gomes took a different path to the NWSL — and it’s a path that could reflect a new future for women’s soccer development in the U.S.

A Portuguese international with two senior team caps under her belt, Gomes was a standout at BYU. She graduated in 2018 after totaling 23 goals and 23 assists in 83 appearances in her NCAA career. Gomes originally was selected by the Orlando Pride in the second round of the 2018 draft but never signed a contract besides being brought in as a national team replacement player.

After five years without a professional contract, Gomes reinvigorated her career with the San Francisco Glens in the USL W League, a pre-professional league launched in 2022 that is designed to provide a much-needed second-division league in the U.S.

Gomes scored 17 goals in 15 games to win National Player of the Year in 2023, a performance that earned the attention of the Red Stars. And after earning an invitation to preseason training camp, Gomes made a strong enough impression to earn a one-year contract with a one-year option.

It still will be a battle to earn minutes on the forward line behind Mallory Swanson. But if Gomes finds success with the Red Stars, it would strengthen the USL W League as a pathway to the top flight in the U.S.

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The Red Stars made a strong case for rookie development last season with Penelope Hocking, who quickly rose to become a crucial part of the Red Stars front line, starting 14 of her 16 appearances and stepping into a major role after Swanson suffered a season-ending knee injury.

Hocking made a strong debut by scoring two goals in the 2023 Challenge Cup and went on to net three goals in the regular season, tying Yuki Nagasato to lead the Red Stars. With Swanson returning to the starting group, Hocking will be a valuable secondary scorer.

Developing other young players on a similar path to Hocking will be key to the Red Stars’ ability to rebuild under new ownership helmed by Cubs co-owner Laura Ricketts. The Red Stars lost the majority of their veteran core in free agency, including Tierna Davidson and Casey Krueger.

Re-signing Swanson and Alyssa Naeher allowed the team to maintain its two top stars, but the club is still working to rebuild its image — and rebrand its next era. Developing young players is one of the first steps in that process.