‘The Women Dominated' ... The Men? Not So Much: The Biggest Chicago Sports Stories Of 2019
In a mostly disappointing year for Chicago sports, the Bears, Cubs, Fire and Sox all missed the playoffs during their 2019 seasons. (And the Blackhawks and Bulls are off to rough starts to their 2019-20 seasons.)
But it wasn’t all bad: The Red Stars and Sky turned in successful campaigns.
“The women dominated 2019,” WBEZ sports contributor Cheryl Raye-Stout said. “The men? Not so much.”
She gave us the rundown on the biggest moments for each team, along with a lookahead to 2020.
Red Stars: A global spotlight
Red Stars goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, defenders Tierna Davidson and Julie Ertz and midfielder Morgan Brian were were part of the U.S. Women’s National Team that won the World Cup in July. Then, they helped the Chicago Red Stars reach the National Women's Soccer League championship this fall.
“I think [the World Cup] helped boost the energy for their team, the energy for women’s soccer, and it’s something that their team needed,” Raye-Stout said. “Also, a lot of young girls got to see the possibility of being able to play for the World Cup, but also play and make money if you want to.”
In October, that World Cup team ended its victory tour at Soldier Field, where head coach Jill Ellis was honored after stepping down with the most wins in U.S. Women’s National Team history.
Sky: “The seeds are planted”
Under the guidance of new head coach James Wade, the Sky had their most successful season since 2015.
They won their first playoff game against the Phoenix Mercury, but lost in the next round to the Las Vegas Aces.
Veteran point guard Courtney Vandersloot led the league in assists and made the WNBA All-Star team with teammates Allie Quigley and Diamond DeShields.
“You could see the seeds are planted,” Raye-Stout said.
Cubs: The end of an era
The Cubs missed the playoffs and didn’t renew the contract of manager Joe Maddon, who in 2016 led the Cubs to their first World Series victory in 108 years.
In October, the Cubs named former catcher David Ross as their next manager.
“It’s going to be interesting to see how David Ross, who has never managed before, is going to be taking over the reins of a team that people still expect to win,” Raye-Stout said.
The Cubs also cut ties with infielder Addison Russell, who missed the beginning of the season to complete a suspension for violating the league’s domestic violence policy. Cubs President Theo Epstein said the decision was made because Russell’s on-field performance didn’t justify his projected salary.
Off the field, the team said goodbye to Wrigley Field organist Gary Pressy, who retired after 33 years with the organization.
Bears: Injuries and disappointment
After Cody Parkey’s missed kick in the Jan. 6 NFC wildcard game ended the Bears’ 2018 season, “everyone expected them to regroup and be fine,” Raye-Stout said.
After all, they had several players make the Pro Bowl and Matt Nagy was named NFC Coach of the Year. But injuries quickly derailed the 2019 season.
“When you lose starters, it’s very hard to overcome that,” Raye-Stout said.
In a lost season, the Bears had hoped for more consistent play from quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.
“But he has not taken that next step to being an elite quarterback,” Raye-Stout said. “So the question mark: Is he going to be the quarterback for the future?”
Blackhawks: Defense woes continue
In the midst of a playoff drought, the Blackhawks have struggled defensively in the 2019 season.
“When the Blackhawks’ defense fails — and that happens more often than not — it puts them in a situation of being unable to stop the puck.” Raye-Stout said. “That is something they have to fix.”
The offensive, however, has stood out as Patrick Kane had 11 goals and 13 assists over 15 games in November and December.
“Patrick Kane having that scoring streak has really been something to watch,” she said. “To watch him at 31 still playing like when he did when he began in the league 11 years ago, it's still somebody to behold.”
Bulls: Another step back
Despite playoff hopes, the Bulls got off to another disappointing start.
“Their players are not gelling as everyone expected [them] to,” Raye-Stout said.
One bright spot this season involved a former player. Forward Luol Deng, who played 10 seasons with the team, signed a one-day contract so he could retire in Chicago and was honored at the United Center in November.
Fire: Relocating and rebranding
After another disappointing season, the Fire are undergoing a major rebrand. Next season, they’ll have a new head coach, a new logo and will even change their name from the Chicago Fire Soccer Club to the Chicago Fire Football Club.
And after a decade at SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview, billionaire owner Joe Mansueto will moving the team back to Soldier Field for their 2020 home games.
“There's been a thought [that] moving everything to Chicago again would probably spark [fan] interest,” Raye-Stout said. “Soccer is one of those sports that, you know, [a team] really has to have a presence … and has to win and be sustainable in order for them to have success with the fans.”
White Sox: Still rebuilding
Despite finishing with a losing record, the Sox saw breakout performances from Lucas Giolito, Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson, whose infamous bat flip “ticked off a lot of people in baseball, but made him an icon on social media,” Raye-Stout said.
The Sox “have a lot of good pieces” and will be on the hunt for players that can help them be playoff contenders in 2020, Raye-Stout said.
Libby Berry is a digital producer at WBEZ. Follow her @libbyaberry.