The Chicago Red Stars will face the Washington Spirit on Saturday, and they are one win away from their first NWSL title. With several key players still out, but some big names back and ready to go, how will the Red Stars line up in Louisville?
The goalkeeper position is a no brainer for Rory Dames’ team. Since Alyssa Naeher went down injured at the Olympics, Cassie Miller has performed at a high level as the starting goalkeeper. After being the third-string last season, she has been one of the team’s surprise breakout stars this year.
The entire backline picks itself since it has been the Red Stars’ biggest strength down the stretch. Arin Wright will start on the left side of the defense, and rookie Tatumn Milazzo will likely continue to start at right back. Milazzo deputized for Casey Krueger for most of the season and has been the starter throughout the playoff run since Krueger has been out due to illness.
The Red Stars are lucky to have two of the best central defenders in the league: Sarah Gorden and Tierna Davidson. Gorden in particular has been a standout this year, playing every single minute of the Red Stars’ season and being nominated for Defender of the Year. Davidson was also a part of the USWNT’s bronze medal run in Tokyo. Though this is one of the least deep positions, there is still a reliable backup in Kayla Sharples available off of the bench if needed.
The Red Stars typically play in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with a pair of defensive midfielders and an attacking 10 in front of them. Vanessa DiBernardo will occupy the attacking midfield role; she has worn the armband in the absence of Julie Ertz, and brings valuable experience to the team. Morgan Gautrat has been one of the team’s best players in transition, and will likely be partnered with Sarah Woldmoe as the dual sixes at the base of the midfield. Woldmoe has not only been rock solid in the midfield this season, but she has also been a scoring threat, finding goals from corner kicks on numerous occasions and scoring the Red Stars’ second goal against Portland from long range last week. Danielle Colaprico has not been a starter this season, but is a reliable, experienced option to bring off of the bench. She has been a part of all six of the Red Stars’ consecutive playoff runs. Nikki Stanton is another option off the bench.
The front three of Mal Pugh, Rachel Hill, and Kealia Watt gradually improved over the course of the season as they gained cohesion, but last week’s injury to Watt means that reinforcement will have to be brought in. One option that Dames may turn to is Katie Johnson, who scored in the semifinal against Portland. Though she has not had her best season, she had a great game on both sides of the ball last week, and ultimately scored the winning goal. Two more options are Makenzy Doniak, who has scored 3 goals this season playing as a number nine, and experienced winger Alyssa Mautz, who has mostly come off the bench last in games this season.