For the third time this season, Reign FC face off against a tough Chicago Red Stars squad. Sunday’s match, the club’s first home game in more than a month, will be a homecoming affair for all the team’s World Cup players. It’s also expected to be a sellout at Cheney Stadium, as more than 7,000 fans are expected for the 1:00 p.m. PT match.
The Red Stars are coming off a high, as they welcomed a record-setting 17,388 fans at SeatGeek Stadium last weekend in a 2-1 victory over the North Carolina Courage. The Reign, meanwhile, are coming off a much-needed week off — giving some players extra time to recover from injuries.
Matches between the Red Stars and Reign are almost always close affairs. In fact, seven of the last eight meetings between these two sides have been draws or wins decided by just one goal. The lone outlier was a 3-0 Reign road loss this April, which the club quickly bounced back from.
What makes the Red Stars so tough to break down? Here’s what you need to know about Reign FC’s opponent.
What to Watch
Formation: The Red Stars line up primarily in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Sam Kerr as the lone striker up top. The players flanking her as wing players have rotated as the team dealt with injuries or World Cup absences. The USWNT duo of Morgan Brian and Julie Ertz should be called upon to hold down the defensive midfield positions, with Ertz often dropping to the back line when her outside backs push into the attack. Speaking of outside backs ...
Width from outside backs: A lot of Chicago’s width comes from their outside backs, who dart up the sidelines to get involved in the team’s build-up. The Red Stars don’t rely on crosses that often. Instead, their outside backs are trying to stretch defenders to find open spaces or combine with teammates. The Reign will want to keep them contained, while also quickly plugging any holes with the space the Red Stars wide players expose.
Aggressive press: The Reign just picked up nine points out of 12 on a four-game road trip. A big reason for their success was a well-executed press. While you won’t see them pressing high at all times, the way the defense works under head coach Vlatko Andonovski is that they lure opponents into specific parts of the field before aggressively pouncing on the ball. That press led to two goals against a stingy Utah team — both created off interceptions in their opponent’s half.
Vanessa DiBernardo: Why DiBernardo hasn’t received a U.S. Women’s National Team callup is beyond me. She’s the glue that makes the Red Stars midfield work, dictating Chicago’s pace and managing pinpoint precision with her passes. She’s currently questionable for Sunday with a hip injury — an issue that has plagued her for two seasons. When she’s not in the game, Chicago really struggles. DiBernardo makes well-timed runs into the box, taking advantage of the times when teams try to double up on Sam Kerr. Case in point:
Sam Kerr: You probably know who Sam Kerr is by now. The Australian striker often toes the offside line. She currently leads the league in offside calls. And that’s what makes her so dangerous. If you misstep one time, she’s going to punish you. Kerr only needs one opportunity. It will be an entire team effort along the Reign backline to keep her contained.
Arin Wright: The left back is one of the fastest players in the league and seems to never get tired. She’s solid defensively — having improved this side of her game in recent years —while providing a huge spark on the offensive end. Wright moved higher up the field for the start of the last game, and earned an assist in the process. No matter where she lines up, her speed gets her into dangerous spots in the attack.
Absences: Injury, international duty and suspension
OUT: Taylor Smith (SEI – Right Knee), Jasmyne Spencer (SEI – Left Knee), Michelle Betos (SEI – Right Achilles), Jaycie Johnson (SEI – Right Knee), Scout Watson (SEI – Concussion), Jessica Fishlock (SEI – Left Knee), Lydia Williams (45D Left Ankle), Megan Rapinoe (Left Achilles), Darian Jenkins (Left Hamstring), Stephanie Cox (Right Calf), Rumi Utsugi (Left Calf)
QUESTIONABLE: Celia Jimenez Delgado (Right Groin)
OUT: Alyssa Mautz (Right Knee), AJ Jahansouz (Right Knee), Michele Vasconcelos (Left Knee), Danielle Colaprico (Left Knee)
QUESTIONABLE: Tierna Davidson (Right Thigh), Vanessa DiBernado (Left Hip)
INTERNATIONAL DUTY: Maria Sanchez (MEX)
By the Numbers
5-2-5, 20 points | 12 goals for, 11 goals against
Bethany Balcer: 3 goals, 1 assist
Casey Murphy: 24 saves, 5 goals against, 3 clean sheets
Chicago Red Stars
6-5-2, 20 points | 20 goals for, 19 goals against
Sam Kerr: 10 goals, 1 assist | Yuki Nagasato: 3 goals, 4 assits
Alyssa Naeher: 13 saves, 6 goals against, 1 clean sheet
Reign FC versus Chicago kicks off at 1:00 p.m. PT on Sunday, July 28 at Tacoma’s Cheney Stadium. The game will stream on Yahoo! and the NWSL website for international fans. We’ll have a separate gamethread to discuss the match.