Red Stars Hoping to Crush Washington Spirit
A pivotal match for both teams with the playoffs looming.
Chicago, IL -- Chicago hosts the Washington Spirit on Sunday to finally resolve the game that was so dramatically interrupted by storms in June. With only four games left to play, both teams enter this contest hungry for a win and a firmer grasp on a playoff spot.
The Red Stars sit in second place with 28 points, but have won only once in their past six games. Not exactly the sort of form the team hoped for in a quest for its first-ever NWSL playoff berth. Washington is only three points behind, clinging to fourth place while Portland, Houston, Western New York, and even Sky Blue FC remain hot on their heels. Deuces are wild for the Spirit over their previous six games: Two wins, two draws, two losses. Both teams desperately need to win this game, which should be one of the more intense and entertaining of the season.
Due to a pair of U.S. Women’s National Team “Victory Tour” friendlies sandwiched around the match, however, both squads will be without their World Cup players. The Red Stars will play without leading scorer Christen Press, defensive stalwart Julie Johnston, and captain Lori Chalupny. The Spirit lose star defender Ali Krieger and starting goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris. This actually sets the rosters much closer to what they were on the game’s original June date, since the World Cup players were also absent at that time.
With modified rosters and so much at stake, here are Chicago’s keys to the game:
STOP. CRYSTAL. DUNN.
There's really no mystery here. The Red Stars must keep a lid on NWSL scoring leader Crystal Dunn in order to have any chance of a victory. Dunn has been absolutely on fire this season, netting 12 goals in 16 games for the Spirit. She’s fast, she can dribble through entire defenses, and she fires a lot of shots on frame. Without Julie Johnston in the lineup, Chicago will rely on Samantha Johnson and New Zealand captain Abby Erceg to keep Dunn at bay. Expect the entire midfield to focus on trying to stifle service to Dunn, as well.
IMPROVED FINISHING, ESPECIALLY EARLY.
In nearly every game this season, the Red Stars have exploded out of the gate with a high press and numerous early scoring chances. The problem has been finishing those opportunities. Missing early chances and allowing teams to get back into games (or take the lead) late has been a recurring theme in recent weeks. There will be some serious pressure on Jen Hoy and rookie Sofia Huerta to rediscover their goal-scoring chemistry that was so productive earlier in the season.
KEEP SOMETHING IN THE TANK.
Fatigue has been a very real and very recognizable problem for Chicago in recent performances. After strong, arguably dominant starts against Portland and Sky Blue FC, the Red Stars faded towards the end of both games and settled for a single point from the pair. Capitalizing more efficiently early and managing effective substitutions late will be absolutely crucial for Chicago in this game - especially as the forecast calls for temperatures in the 90s with high humidity. It will not be a pleasant day on the pitch.
Coach Rory Dames has juggled his lineup a lot from game to game, but based on recent outings, World Cup absentees, and expected squad rotation due to the cramped schedule, the starting XI is likely to feature: LeBlanc, Gilliland, Johnson, Erceg, Hemmings, Quon, Colaprico, DiBernardo, Mautz, Hoy, Huerta
SPEAKING OF TANCS: Having looked so dangerous against Portland and sitting out against Sky Blue FC, it's possible that Melissa Tancredi will get the nod over Hoy (especially as the latter played a full 90 on Wednesday).
Projected Washington Starters: Wys, Reynolds, Oyster, Church, Johnson, Lohman, Nairn, DaCosta, Matheson, Ordega, Dunn
Both teams are hoping that the weather cooperates this time. The originally-scheduled game was suspended after only 18 minutes due to lightning. It was then delayed for several hours because of the ensuing storms. Play resumed around 10pm CT, only to be stopped again before the first half could be completed. It was eventually called off entirely, but not until after midnight.
The game kicks off at 7:30pm CT Sunday night at the Village of Lisle-Benedictine University Sports Complex in Lisle, IL. --MER