After a strong performance in their home opener, Reign FC head back on the road to face a dangerous Chicago Red Stars side. The Saturday, April 27 match is likely to be a cold affair. At kickoff time, which is 7:00 p.m. CDT (5:00 p.m. PDT), it is predicted to be 39 degrees and raining, but will feel closer to 29. Fun!
Both teams enter the game 0-0-2, although Chicago has certainly had the more difficult path — facing the North Carolina Courage in their season opener before hosting the Portland Thorns. Against Portland, the Red Stars came from behind three different times to level the score in an entertaining match that ended 4-4.
Reign and Chicago have played each other tightly in recent years. Since 2015, every game between these two teams has either ended in a draw or was decided by just one goal.
A Look at the Roster
I hate to say this, but I think, on paper, Chicago Red Stars are the best team in the league. Their depth in the midfield is particularly impressive, where head coach Rory Dames has Julie Ertz, Vanessa DiBernardo, Dani Colaprico, Morgan Brian, Nikki Stanton, and Yuki Nagasato to choose from.
Last year, due to this depth in midfield, Dames experimented with a 4-4-2 diamond formation, giving his outside backs the chance to create width on the wings. So far this season, however, the Red Stars are in more of a 4-3-3 lineup, with Ertz and Colaprico holding down the more defensive midfield positions and Nagasato being the playmaker higher up the field.
Then there’s that player up top whose name might sound familiar. Striker Sam Kerr already has two goals this season and is looking to make a big impact on her squad before heading off to the World Cup with Australia. She’s terrorized defenses with her ability to turn and shoot in an instant and hold off defenders.
On the wings in the attack, the Red Stars added former Reign FC rookie Katie Johnson, who is a fantastic hold-up player and impressed last week against the Portland Thorns. Alyssa Mautz has gotten the start as the right wing player. While she isn’t always a critical link in the attack, Mautz is a workhorse who provides strong defensive cover and can get on the end of through balls and crosses. Michele Vasconcelos scored her first NWSL goal of the season thanks to what might be the best team build-up this year.
Defensively, the Red Stars got even stronger in the offseason — drafting USWNT centerback Tierna Davidson, who is supported by veteran Katie Naughton; Casey Short, another USWNT defender; and Arin Wright (formerly Gilliland), a speedy outside back with a nonstop engine. Wright is out for this match, but that doesn’t make the backline any weaker. They’re deep in all spots on the field.
Style of Play
Matches between the Red Stars and Reign have been physical affairs — not overly aggressive, per se, but both teams work hard to win the ball back quickly.
Like the Reign, Chicago has a striker that likes to test the offside line. Kerr and Jodie Taylor both often lead the league in offside calls as they look to stretch defenses and get behind defenders. With a player like Yuki Nagasato sitting right behind Kerr, Chicago doesn’t just send balls over the top to Kerr like Orlando tried with Alex Morgan. Nagasato is a skillful passer who can thread balls through tight spaces, which means the Reign will want to limit her time on the ball.
Defensively, teams have a hard time getting through the middle, where Ertz likes to linger and break up play. Ertz is key to building play as well, and she often leads the team in touches. Chicago likes to play down the middle, utilizing Ertz and the rotating set of talented midfield players the team possesses.
The outside backs provide most of the width, streaking down the sidelines to combine and send in crosses. One thing Chicago hasn’t done much is get the ball to the endline. In two matches, the team has only earned two corner kicks. While the outside backs provide width, the Red Stars don’t rely heavily on crosses to create opportunities. They do, however, put plenty of bodies in and around the box — looking to find seams through quick passing.
Players to Watch
- Yuki Nagasato: She’s the creative engine of this team, and can find the back of the net as well.
- Sam Kerr: It might feel too easy to call out Kerr, but she’s just so dangerous. The defense cannot have any bad passes out of the back — she’ll pounce on them. And don’t give her an ounce of space without putting a body on her.
- The centerbacks: Naughton and Davidson got a little turned around at times last week against Portland. Some quick passing in the box and well-placed crosses could catch them off guard again.
OUT: Jasmyne Spencer (Left knee), Taylor Smith (Right Knee), Megan Rapinoe (Right calf strain), Steph Catley (Right calf strain)
QUESTIONABLE: Darian Jenkins (Left hamstring strain)
OUT: Nikki Stanton (Left Hip), Arin Wright (Right Thigh)
QUESTIONABLE: Morgan Brian (Left Thigh), Vanessa DiBernardo (Left Hip)
How to Watch
Chicago Red Stars vs. Reign FC
When: Saturday, April 27, at 5 PM PT
Live stream (for users in the U.S.): Yahoo! Sports
Live stream (for users outside the U.S.): NWSL