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North Carolina Courage 1, Chicago Red Stars 1: What We Learned

Some takeaways from the Red Stars’ first game of the season

Shaina Benhiyoun Photography

The Chicago Red Stars kicked off their regular season on the road last Saturday and came away with a point on the road as they earned a draw against the North Carolina Courage. Here are a few key moments that stood out to us.

North Carolina are who you thought they were

The Courage made 24 shots in total on Saturday, with six on target. And while Alyssa Naeher was able to come up with five saves, North Carolina showed who they were by picking up right where they left off last season, as the best team in NWSL.

As reigning champions, the Courage have a target on their back. Coach Paul Riley recognizes that and is utilizing that as motivation for his squad.

While some might view the high shot count as an opportunity in waiting, others might just read them as a death stat— in that the Courage will likely pummel you to death with shots until one, or more, end up in the back of the net.

Sam Kerr Is Good At Scoring Goals

The tempo and initiative of this first match belonged to North Carolina. From the opening whistle. Much of the play took place in Chicago’s final third with Red Stars best option being on a quick counter, which happened in the 26th minute.

After clearing the ball from one of many set pieces in the night from the Courage, Yuki Nagasato found herself on the end of the ball and seamlessly threaded it through to Sam Kerr. While getting behind two defenders - and leading Courage keeper Steph Labbe out from net - Kerr ended up scoring, beating both Labbe and Erceg who found herself in position after a good defensive recovery.

Can’t score without the ball and no one knows that better than Nagasato

Nagasato is a unique player with a very particular set of skills not exactly seen before in Chicago. In fact, her skill set was so good last year that it went somewhat unnoticed throughout much of last season by fans, pundits, and even some media, when Nagasato was absent from the league’s end of season best and second XI after being a crucial component to Chicago’s offense and many of Kerr’s goals.

Not a sprinter nor speedster. Not a Lamborghini or even the type of car you find on a NASCAR circuit. If anything she is the leader of Kerr’s entire pitstop crew, with its members following their pit leader’s next set of moves.

Which is why it was frustrating seeing her Red Stars teammates launching balls way ahead of her expecting her to get on the end of them in a foot race with some of the league’s best defenders. Granted it’s the first match of the season, there is still a preseason vibe of kicking off the rust, and things like passes and form are still coming into play.

Hopefully her technical skill and tactical prowess will remain on full display this season with her teammates able to connect off her play instead of away from her play.