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Five things to know about the Chicago Red Stars

OL Reign hosts Chicago on Saturday at 12:30 PM PT.

NWSL: Chicago Red Stars at OL Reign Stephen Brashear-USA TODAY Sports

OL Reign caps off the team’s three-match week with a home regular-season battle against the Chicago Red Stars on Saturday, April 22. The game will kick off at 12:30 PM PT and will stream on Paramount+ for fans in the U.S., along with TSN+ in Canada and for the remaining international viewers.

The Reign started the season with a 2-1-0 record, while the Red Stars are 1-2-0. OL Reign has scored three goals while allowing one, while Chicago has scored and allowed seven goals.

The Red Stars went through a lot of transition in the offseason, losing veteran midfielders Vanessa DiBernardo, Dani Colaprico, and Morgan Gautrat, along with forward Rachel Hill, to free agency. But they’ve stayed true to many of their principles in 2023: a gritty team that makes it difficult for opponents for 90 minutes.

Here are five things to know about OL Reign’s weekend opponent.

No midweek match for Chicago

The Red Stars come in as the more rested side, as they were one of two clubs that didn’t have a midweek Challenge Cup match. That means, barring any new injuries, Chicago should feature all their starters on Saturday. However, they will be without Mallory Swanson, who is out for the season after tearing her patellar tendon with the U.S. women’s national team earlier this month.

A three-back system

Building on the team’s success from last year, Chicago head coach Chris Petrucelli has once again deployed a 3-4-2-1 formation to start the season. As you can see from their latest pass map, they stay pretty true to this formation. Chicago’s two very athletic wingbacks bring width in the attack, while the two wider forwards — most likely Cheyna Matthews and Penelope Hocking — pinch inside to create overloads or find space.

Don’t allow many shots

The Red Stars have allowed seven goals in three games, but don’t let their goals against numbers fool you. This is a defensive line that makes it hard to create shots, led by two defenders with U.S. women’s national team experience: Tierna Davidson and Casey Krueger.

Chicago is comfortable absorbing pressure. They aren’t aggressively pressing teams; they stay organized — leading the league in clearances — and wait for mistakes. Chicago’s passes per defensive action, which indicates how much pressure is put on teams, is the highest in the league. Chicago allows 14.6 passes per defensive action compared to 9.8 for the Reign. The Red Stars also have caused the fewest high turnovers.

As a result, Chicago has given up the fewest shots after three matches, and they faced three strong offensive teams: San Diego, Houston, and Kansas City. Goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher has also had to make the fewest saves per match (just 1.7).

Space for Reign crosses?

While the Red Stars don’t give up many shots, they are giving up better-quality chances on these shots — including two penalties. While their wingbacks can recover quickly, Chicago can get caught out of shape if they lose the ball with their wingbacks high. Their three-back formation could allow space for the Reign to whip in some dangerous crosses too.

Houston was able to exploit the width at times on a cold and windy match against Chicago in early April. Can OL Reign do the same?

“I think the reality is, Chicago’s wingbacks can recover quickly,” forward Tziarra King said in a pre-match press conference. “So I think exploiting that in a way that kind of allows us to get an advantage with their three back is kind of ideal.”

Build through wide areas

The backline and the two midfielders in the center of the field, including Red Stars newcomer Cari Roccaro, help keep possession for the team — leading the squad in passing. But as they are building, the Red Stars use their width.

Arin Wright and Bianca St. Georges are two speedy wingbacks who can start runs from deep and slip behind defenses, or carry the ball up the field to find their teammates. Here’s an example from their last match, a 4-2 win against Kansas City. Roccaro finds St. Georges on the wing. She carries the ball forward and puts a dangerous cross into the box. The Current can’t clear, and Ella Stevens pounces on the loose ball in the fourth minute.

The Reign will need to stay organized to contain these wing players. And they’ll need to keep an eye on some dangerous players on the frontline, including Matthews, center forward Ella Stevens, and rookie Hocking, who scored two goals last week.

“They’re difficult to break down and they have threats going forward that could tend to come a little bit late into the attack,” head coach Laura Harvey said ahead of the match. “I just think we have to stay organized and get on the front foot whenever we can, defensively, and try to create overloads in different areas of the field where possible.”

Injury / Availability Report

OL Reign

OUT: Angelina (SEI-knee), Rose Lavelle (leg), Phoebe McClernon (back), Quinn (leg), Olivia Van der Jagt (excused absence)

Chicago Red Stars

OUT: Amanda Kowalski (ankle), Brenna Lovera (eye), Addie McCain (ankle), Kayla Sharples (knee), Mallory Swanson (knee)

How to Watch

OL Reign kicks off against the Chicago Red Stars at 12:30 PM PT on Saturday, April 22. The game at Lumen Field will be streamed on Paramount+ (U.S.), TSN+ (Canada), and (International).

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