When we looked at the full Red Stars 2018 season way back in March, we knew that the last five games were going to be very hard. After a Tournament of Nations weekend game against Sky Blue (sans Sam Kerr and the USWNT players on the squad), Chicago has a final stretch against North Carolina, Seattle, Portland, Orlando, and Utah, with the final four of those being on the road. From the very beginning, the Red Stars were likely going to have to go into that stretch already in a playoff position to have a real shot to finish the season in the top four.
And wow, they’ve almost done it! With a win against New Jersey, the Red Stars could jump into second place, behind league-leaders North Carolina (the Courage are so far out in front of the Shield race that they almost aren’t even a factor in the standings anymore). They have to take care of business against a hungry Sky Blue squad, but essentially the Red Stars have weathered a tough slate of games with some major injuries to make looking towards the post-season possible.
Which provides those last five games with both substantial pitfalls and no lack of opportunity. While they’ll be fighting through the top half of the NWSL table to get to the end of the regular season, that turns three-point wins into six-point spreads, and the Red Stars are going to have to keep pulling points wherever they can.
Their final matchup against the Courage is going to be trouble if they want to keep pace with their other playoff rivals, but if they can grab points from the Seattle and Portland games, and get all three from Orlando, it’s possible that Chicago could even make it to the final face-off against Utah with a post-season slot in hand.
The Red Stars have by far the hardest road to the playoffs of the five teams fighting for three post-season spots, with all other teams having matches against either the Washington Spirit or Sky Blue in the home stretch. But this also could stand as an antidote to Chicago’s plateauing issues of the past. The Red Stars are going to have to be peaking at the right time to even make it past the regular season, and if they make it through you have to believe they’ll have a real shot at the final for the first time.