Now that the 2018 NWSL schedule is out to the masses, and the Red Stars are firmly in preseason (opening with a 2-0 victory at Marquette this past weekend), let’s take a look at some of the more significant dates within the CRS campaign that are going to be key to survival in a league where every advantage matters.
Specifically, it looks like there are going to be two key periods where scheduling could make or break the season for the Red Stars, and this summer they happen to work as bookends. While the FIFA window has taken the USWNT and other international players out of the system for preseason (shoutout to all four available Red Stars making the USA’s SheBelieves squad), major absences specifically for Australian and Brazilian players will continue into the beginning of season due to all-important World Cup qualifying happening during that time.
Australia’s Asian Cup runs from April 6th to April 20th, meaning new star striker Sam Kerr will most likely be unavailable for certainly at least 3 matches at the start of the season (April 14th at Utah, the 18th vs Houston, and the 21st vs Sky Blue FC). Depending on Australia’s plans for preparation for the tournament, this absence could extend further on either side of that window, which is going to be a major test for Chicago’s ability to produce goals without their ostensible offensive center-piece.
However, on the flip side, Chicago’s lack of Brazilian internationals means that they won’t be hit quite as hard during the same period of time, as the Copa America Femenina will pull many internationals from the Red Stars’ competitors (mostly from Portland and Orlando, but who’s counting). With so many players in and out, it’s going to be a murky start to the season for all teams, but Chicago definitely has a chance to solidify themselves early on.
Chicago Red Stars final 4 regular season matches are all away games against quality opponents in Seattle, Portland, Orlando, Utah.— Sandra (@SandHerrera_) February 21, 2018
Sounds like fun.#NWSL
The other main window of play that’s going to be incredibly important for Chicago this year is one that our own Sandra Herrera picked up on immediately: that gnarly 4-game road trip at the end of the season. To me, this scheduling is reminiscent of the nasty little period last summer that sent the Red Stars to Seattle, then across the country to Orlando, then up the coast to Boston in the span of 10 days. If CRS don’t have their post-season fate locked up by the time they hit the road on August 15th, they’re going to have to do themselves proud in some hostile environments.
No matter what, the 2018 season is gonna be a grind, and the Red Stars need to bring their A-game to every opportunity, but if they can power through the danger zones on each end of the season, they should be able to comfortably make yet another playoff appearance.