Upon the release of the NWSL schedule for 2018, I took a look and pinpointed some of the toughest runs of games that the Chicago Red Stars were going to face in their campaign — specifically the first (and last) five games of the season. Well, we’ve hit Game Five, and as the Red Stars prepare for number six on Saturday against Washington, it seemed like a good time to reflect on the work Chicago’s done, and what they have to look forward to.
The first five games were always going to be tough, with the international duties of Sam Kerr pulling her away from her new club for the first five weeks of the season, but Chicago’s long-maligned injury woes made April a much sharper test than even previously thought. However, the Red Stars are walking away from that period without any more exacerbated injury (hopefully. Sam Johnson we need you), and the players that have been handling extra playing time have done so with aplomb.
Some points were certainly dropped over the five game span, perhaps most egregiously in the recent match against Sky Blue, but Chicago made it through the fire sitting in second place in the table (though some other teams have games in hand), and are already separating themselves from the mid-tier teams in the league, without ever having the ability to show their second gear.
This is all promising stuff, but it only matters now if the team continues to build on their promising play while slowing working their impact players back into the lineup. Having Kerr up top is going to have an entirely different feeling than in previous weeks, but Chicago needs to stick to the meticulous 4-3-3 that has been yielding quality results. The last thing the Red Stars need is for the outstanding play of Danny Colaprico and Sofia Huerta to stagnate with the re-introduction of Julie Ertz and Kerr.
Chicago also has to look at their next opponents as those against which results might have more weight than in the early going. Washington and Orlando are two teams that would love to put the Red Stars place in the top-four on shaky ground, and the head-to-heads against those two squads could prove very important in the home stretch of the season. The Red Stars are in a great place to continue to succeed, but the next few weeks could cement whether or not their race to the playoffs is even going to be close.