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Armor All Flow: North Carolina vs Chicago Red Stars, NWSL Week 1 Preview

Chicago kicks off the regular season against Champion North Carolina Courage

Shaina Benhiyoun Photography

NWSL is back and the Chicago Red Stars will face off against the North Carolina Courage for opening weekend.

Chicago is coming off a series of preseason losses but that’s not a reason to think the Red Stars won’t be competitive against the reigning NWSL Champions.

“I think that we’ve used this preseason event differently than we have in the past,” said Head Coach Rory Dames

“The amount of the new players we chose to travel with [to Portland] it didn’t make any sense to travel and not let them play for us. The fact that we were able to evaluate them against other NWSL teams is a huge plus for us.”

Both Chicago and North Carolina will have several players who have been involved in national team camps on top of time in NWSL preseason, and this match has the potential to be quite the billing for opening weekend.

Where We Last Saw Them

The 2018 semi-final rematch. After a Hurricane made landfall on North Carolina, the league made the decision to move the match to Portland. During the semifinal, the Courage struck first on an early goal from Jessica McDonald. Chicago had matched up well with the best team in NWSL during the first half, having two opportunities on goal go off the post and hit a crossbar. Late in the second half Samantha Mewis would push North Carolina into the final with a second goal in the 86th minute.

Starting Lineup We’d Like To See

Similarly to last year, Some Red Stars are carrying injuries into the regular season.

However, Dames says players have been participating in practices. “Danny and Morgan and Vanessa have all been in training this week . . . Yuki has been in and out of training as a precautionary but she’s been okay. Mautz and Elby were as well but they’ve been back at training, and we’re on the upward trend.”

Here’s hoping to a healthy opening day.

Keys To The Match

Possession: Both teams have strong midfielders able to dictate tempo of a match. Whether it’s building up play or disrupting it, the midfield will have to maintain possession to get a result.

Goalkeeper battle: Steph Labbé gets the start in net for North Carolina after Katelyn Rowland suffered an injury in preseason. The Canadian international will go head to head with Alyssa Naeher, and with regular season rust not uncommon on opening weekend, don’t be surprised to see a low scoring battle thanks to the Goalkeepers, with hopefully a shutout for Naeher.

Beat The Best: On paper, some pundits and fans are noticing a strong roster for Chicago in 2019, possibly the best. One that can handle things during the World Cup break and beyond. But Dames understands to be the best you have to beat the best.

“What everyone’s got to do this year is figure out how to beat North Carolina when it counts. We’ve had two chances in the two [semifinals] when it counts and we haven’t gotten it done. Until we do? North Carolina is the best team in the league, and everyone else is chasing them.”

Players To Watch

Chicago Red Stars: Here’s hoping Katie Johnson will get her official gameday welcome to the Red Stars on Saturday. Chicago made an offseason trade to bring her here to make an impact, what better statement against the reigning champions?

North Carolina Courage: Crystal Dunn. Please stop being so awesome all the time against the Red Stars, thanks.

How To Watch

Kickoff: Saturday, April 13, at 6:00pm CT at Sahlen’s Stadium at Wakemed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina.

Stream: Available through Yahoo Sports via App or Desktop.

Wild Prediction

Chicago gets a hat trick, maybe even one off a set piece.

Final Thoughts

YOU READY BIG FELLA??? The regular season is here! The Red Stars are back! Who are you excited to watch play on Saturday? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!