Red Stars Host Dash in High-Stakes Finale
Chicago looking to lock down home-field advantage for semifinals
Chicago, IL -- The Chicago Red Stars and Houston Dash close out the 2015 NWSL regular season with a Sunday afternoon clash at Toyota Park. The game could have huge ramifications for the Red Stars’ postseason, as a win guarantees them a second-place finish and home-field advantage in the semi-final round of the playoffs.
Last time out, Chicago turned in an impressive 2-0 road win against Western New York. Christen Press continued her red-hot run of form, scoring the first goal and setting up Jen Hoy for the second. Goalkeeper Michelle Dalton made five saves to record her fifth shutout, good for second-best in the league. It was a welcome result for the Red Stars, who had lost two and drawn four in their previous six outings. In order to host the franchise’s first-ever NWSL playoff game, they will need to build on that performance.
It will not be an easy task, despite the fact that Houston is already eliminated from playoff contention. The Dash boast a star-studded lineup, with U.S. Women’s National Team standouts Carli Lloyd, Meghan Klingenberg, and Morgan Brian all back with the squad. Up front, Kealia Ohai and former Red Stars Jessica McDonald and Ella Masar are a dangerous, high-energy attacking trio. So far this season, they’ve scored 12 of the team’s 20 goals. Masar has actually played most of the season at right back for Houston, but returned to her natural forward role and scored her first goal of the season in the team’s most recent match (a 1-0 home win over Boston).
Houston’s defense has been up and down all season, but the return of Brian in the holding midfield role has stabilized things a bit. In goal, Canadian international (and another former Red Star) Erin McLeod has been solid, even spectacular, in her 10 appearances for the Dash.
This is the third meeting of the year between the two clubs, and the first to be played in Chicago. The teams battled to a 2-2 draw back in May, while the Red Stars won the second game 2-1 in July. Over the course of the two matches, Chicago outshot Houston 33 to 18. Rookie forward Sofia Huerta leads the way for the Red Stars, tallying both goals in the first game and a total of 10 shots through both.
Houston has nothing to lose, Chicago has everything to gain, and the lineups might make this look like an all-star game. So how does Chicago come away with all three points?
CONTAIN ELLA MASAR
As previously mentioned, Ella Masar is back at forward for the Dash and playing extremely well. She was active and a constant threat in Houston’s win over Boston. She has also hinted at walking away from the NWSL at season’s end and is playing in her home state against a team for which she made nearly 60 appearances. It’s a safe bet that she'll be highly motivated for Sunday’s match. She will put continuous pressure on the Red Stars’ backline and will have a ton of support on attack. Chicago will need to contain Masar and avoid the turnovers she'll look to cause in order to win this game.
IGNORE THE RESULTS
Unfortunately, the NWSL enters its final regular season weekend with a staggered slate of games. Because of this, Chicago’s playoff fate may already be decided by the result of Saturday’s match between the Washington Spirit and Seattle Reign. If Washington loses or draws, the Red Stars automatically clinch second place and the all-important home playoff game. Hopefully in the future, the league will look to synchronize season finales in order to build (and promote) the drama of playoff chases. Until then, Chicago should carry on as if their playoff lives depend on this game.
In the table below, you can see how the league’s four playoff-bound teams have done since the start of July. Seattle and FC Kansas City are on fire right now, steamrolling into the postseason. The Red Stars (and Spirit), on the other hand, have been inconsistent down the stretch. Chicago looked much better in the last two matches (both against Western New York) and should look to build on those performances against Houston -- regardless of what happens on Saturday.
WIN THE SUPERSTAR BATTLES
In the previous two meetings between Chicago and Houston, neither team had their Women’s World Cup players on the field. If they all play on Sunday, the lineups this time around will read like a Who’s Who of women’s soccer. The Dash will have their hands full trying to contain Christen Press, who continues to create scoring chances out of seemingly harmless situations. Press has nine goals in just 10 league games thus far and is a genuine threat to score every time she touches the ball.
Similarly, the Red Stars’ will be looking to neutralize Carli Lloyd’s impact on the game. Like Press, Lloyd can create a whole lot from very little, so midfielders Lori Chalupny and Danielle Colaprico will certainly have a busy time of it on Sunday. The same is true for Abby Erceg and Julie Johnston, who will look to nullify Lloyd’s aerial threat on corners.
As it’s in the team’s best interests to win this game, regardless of Saturday's Washington-Seattle result, our projected Red Stars’ lineup is: Dalton, Gilliland, Erceg, Johnston, Hemmings, Chalupny, Colaprico, DiBernardo, Tancredi, Huerta, Press
Chicago forward Alyssa Mautz missed the last match with an injury and her status for this game is uncertain. If healthy, expect her to take Tancredi’s spot in the lineup.
For Houston: McLeod, Klingenberg, Pressley, Allyscha, Brush, Brian, Machry, Lloyd, Masar, Ohai, McDonald
Kickoff for the game is at 4:00pm at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, IL. Need tickets? Get them here! --MER