Red Stars Look To Snap Slide Against Flash
Both teams battling for playoff spots, despite recent struggles.
Chicago, IL -- The slumping Red Stars host the Western New York Flash on Sunday afternoon, with both teams increasingly desperate for a win. The two teams have struggled of late and are running out of opportunities to grab points as the postseason beckons.
Chicago enters the match on an uncomfortable six-game winless streak (0-4-2). After a heartbreaking 2-1 loss to the Washington Spirit in their previous outing, the Red Stars now sit in third place with 28 points. Still, they need only four points from their final three games in order to clinch a franchise-first NWSL playoff spot. They can also slip into the playoffs if the teams chasing them drop some points, but it’s safe to assume that coach Rory Dames would rather head into the postseason with some positive momentum.
Meanwhile, the seventh-place Flash are in a far more precarious position. They have won only once in their past eight games and have surrendered 17 goals over that stretch. They need at least seven points just to climb past FC Kansas City for fourth, but they also need Portland, Houston, and FC Kansas City to lose some games along the way.
It’s not clear whether the Red Stars will have their U.S. Women’s National Team players back for this match, but with so much at stake the club’s supporters certainly hope so. Having played in Chattanooga on Wednesday, it is likely that Christen Press, Julie Johnston, and Lori Chalupny will all be back with the team for Sunday’s match. The Flash will be without Sydney Leroux, who underwent season-ending surgery following the Women’s World Cup, and it is probable that midfielder Ashley Nick will miss the match as well. Nick suffered a particularly nasty injury below her right eye in the team’s previous outing, a 1-1 draw with Washington. Spirit midfielder Joanna Lohman caught Nick with an elbow as the two went up for a header.
Chicago’s Christen Press has proven that she can create dangerous scoring opportunities from nearly any situation. So aside from getting her the ball early and often, here are four other keys to this game for the Red Stars:
A TALE OF TWO KEEPERS.
Strong play in goal is always important, but with so many dangerous attackers on these two teams the keepers will have to be especially solid. The Flash’s Chantel Jones has been up and down in recent weeks. She was outstanding against the Spirit last time out, spectacularly robbing Crystal Dunn on multiple occasions and giving up only one goal on a whopping 15 shots. She was much shakier a week earlier against FC Kansas City, however, allowing four goals on nine shots. She also plays a very aggressive sweeper style, which fits Western New York’s high defense line, but occasionally finds her wandering too far from goal. Chicago should look to exploit this whenever possible.
For the Red Stars, Michelle Dalton will likely get the start and will have to be especially alert at all times: The Flash tend to fire shots from all over the attacking half, and they have a number of ball-hawking poachers who will pounce on any rebound in the box. Michelle Heyman, Lady Andrade, Jasmyne Spencer, Samantha Mewis, and Lynn Williams are all particularly deadly in the penalty area, so rebound control is absolutely critical for Dalton (and her defense), especially on set pieces.
Western New York’s leading scorer has only four goals (Lynn Williams), but they have gotten scoring from 12 different players so they have plenty of threats on the roster. None are more dangerous than newly-acquired Australian international Michelle Heyman, however. Like fellow newcomer Andrade, Heyman is exceptional on the ball in tight quarters. She generally plays a target role, sitting high and holding up play for her attacking partners, but can also run at defenders and create chances on her own. Her work rate is fantastic and she is generally involved in the play all over the pitch. If the Red Stars can keep Heyman contained, they will have a much easier time of it on Sunday.
CORNERS. CORNERS. CORNERS.
Thanks to excellent service (typically from Becky Edwards) and multiple targets in the box, Western New York is extremely dangerous on corners. All teams look to win and score on corner kicks, but the Flash thrive on these opportunities and the Red Stars must minimize them at all costs.
SHE WHO CONTROLS THE FLANKS…
Flash rookie left back Jaelene Hinkle is a speedy, attack-minded defender who looks to get up the flank as often as possible. She crosses well and also looks to pull the ball back to a trailer (typically to Mewis or Heyman). The Red Stars of course have their own attacking fullbacks in Arin Gilliland and Taryn Hemmings, both of whom feature prominently in Dames’ attack. Though the Red Stars must be mindful of Hinkle’s attacking threat, they should nevertheless look to push the flanks themselves as often as possible – and particularly when Hinkle is caught upfield.
Assuming the U.S. internationals are back and available, our projected Red Stars lineup is: Dalton, Gilliland, Johnston, Erceg, Hemmings, Chalupny, Colaprico, DiBernardo, Mautz, Hoy, Press
For Western New York: Jones, Hinkle, Engen, Taylor, Edmonds, Mewis, Edwards, Dahlkemper, Spencer, Heyman, Andrade
Kickoff for this game is at 4:0pm CT Sunday at the Village of Lisle-Benedictine University Sports Complex in Lisle, IL. The mid-afternoon match opens a 2-game, home-and-home series with the Flash, with Chicago travelling to Western New York on August 29. --MER