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Chicago Red Stars vs. Washington Spirit: Rory Dames breaks down what to expect

The Red Stars open the NWSL Challenge Cup Saturday at 9 p.m. CT on CBS All Access

Chicago Red Stars v Sky Blue FC

Chicago Red Stars head coach Rory Dames said his team is coming into the NWSL Challenge Cup with three big goals: One, keep everyone healthy. Two, use the tournament as a chance to evaluate the team’s rookies and other new players. And three, with Orlando out of the tournament and all teams now guaranteed a spot in the quarterfinal, make sure he knows his best 11 players by the knockout stage, and make sure those 11 are rested and ready.

Here’s what else Dames had to say when he met with reporters today:

On facing the Washington Spirit in the opening match:

“It’s a really challenging Washington team who’s a year older. It’ll be a good challenge for our group.”

On how the Red Stars will attack without superstar striker Sam Kerr:

“You don’t replace Sam, and if you’re gonna try to replace Sam with one player, who is that player? I’m not sure that player exists.”

“I think we’ll be a little hard to prepare and a little bit harder to defend against as a whole, but probably not put the same fear into people in the past with that one out and out person who can make a great clearance look like a great pass, and get to goal.”

“Collectively, the group will be able to hold on to the ball a little bit more, and not be so transitional, because we won’t be looking to spring that player up high early and often.”

On using the opening matches to prepare and keep players healthy:

“Our first game and our second game will be completely scripted, as far as who starts, the subs, when it happens. The third game a little bit less, and then we’ll get a little bit of a break until the fourth game, and we’ll see where we’re at.”

“Every team is using this tournament a little bit differently. We’re certainly using it as an opportunity to evaluate young players, see what our future looks like, and try to lay down some basic principles that we can build into 2021 with.”

On the possibility of holding a similar tournament every year, not just during a global pandemic:

“If you’re a coach that likes to develop young players, this is an ideal setting. I’m hopeful that the league can figure out a way next year and the years beyond to set up some sort of tournament competition within the league, where we get the opportunity to use some of our reserve players at the bottom end of our roster.”

On new forward Kealia Watt:

“She is significantly better than I thought she was. Obviously, I thought she was pretty good. That’s why we tried as hard to get her as we did. But, she has a lot more tools in her tool chest than I would have known—maybe because the only times I saw her play live was when she was playing against Casey [Short], and that’s not the easiest person to go head to head against, but she’s looked great. I would say he’s probably been in the top six or seven players in the group. Super dynamic. Super clean.”

“Not surprising since she was the captain in Houston, but she’s a great leader. Vocal, positive with the group. I’m not usually a rah-rah guy, but I’ve been overly pleased with her, and I can’t wait for her to get onto the field with our team.”