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Hot Time’s 2021 Chicago Red Stars Preview

Everything you need to know ahead of tonight’s Challenge Cup opener

Washington Spirit v Chicago Red Stars

Important Dates To Know

It is going to be an incredibly busy 2021 around the NWSL beginning with the second edition of the Challenge Cup, which this year will serve as a sort of preseason tournament in the lead up to the regular season.

The Challenge Cup kicks off tonight at BBVA Stadium with a rematch of last year’s final between the Red Stars and defending champion Houston Dash at 7:30 PM CT on CBS Sports Network.

The Red Stars further group-stage games are:

- Thursday, April 15th vs Portland (SeatGeek Stadium / Paramount+)

- Tuesday, April 20th vs Kansas City (SeatGeek Stadium / Paramount+)

- Tuesday, April 27th @ OL Reign (Cheney Stadium / Paramount+)

The winner of each group will face off in the championship game Saturday May 8th on CBS.

NWSL Regular Season: begins on May 15th, ends on October 30th, and will conclude with the NWSL Championship on November 20th. No specific schedule details have yet been released.

Tokyo Olympics: the women’s football tournament runs from July 21st to August 6th and will likely feature several Red Stars players, particularly for the United States.

Other USWNT windows this season:

- April 5th – 13th (matches vs Sweden and France this week)

- June 7th – 16th

- September 13th – 21st

- October 18th – 26th

Who’s Gone?

- Yuki Nagasato (traded to Racing Louisville)

- Savannah McCaskill (traded to Racing Louisville)

- Michele Vasconcelos (traded to FC Kansas City)

- Hannah Davison (signed with IFK Goteborg in Sweden)

- Camryn Biegalski (free agent)

Who’s New / Back?

- Mallory Pugh (acquired via trade from Sky Blue FC)

- Sarah Woldmoe (acquired via trade from Sky Blue FC)

- Nikki Stanton (re-signed after season in Norway with Klepp IL)

- Arin Wright (returns from maternity leave)

- Alyssa Mautz (returns from injury)

Player poised for a big year: Kealia Watt

- In her first season for the Red Stars, forward Kealia Watt scored two goals in 10 games. She looked her best in the Fall Series, including a pair of goals along with an assist against Sky Blue. As she continues to develop chemistry with her teammates, look for the goals to start pouring in. She could also benefit significantly from the addition of Mal Pugh as another attacking threat.

Player who could break into the starting XI: Sarah Luebbert

- Luebbert took advantage of her opportunities during the Fall Series, notching a goal and two assists in four games. Given that late burst, she’s proven she deserves an opportunity to prove she belongs. With Mal Pugh still working her way back from injury, Luebbert should have more chances during this year’s Challenge Cup and has a great shot to break through the big names and establish herself as a Red Stars regular

Possible XIs

While the 4-2-3-1 has been Rory Dames’ bread and butter for a long time, he has indicated he’s open to playing with four in midfield. If everyone was fit, a midfield diamond could be a good way to get all the big names on the field. Gorden and Krueger are certainly capable of pushing forward to provide width. Dames has also indicated he wants to play Julie Ertz in midfield more, and who knows what the lineup looks like if that happens.

What happens during the Olympics?

Projected Olympic call-ups:

o USA: Davidson, Ertz, Naeher

o Canada: St. Georges

The Red Stars are thinnest at center-back right now (particularly if Ertz is playing midfield). Last season, Sarah Gorden occasionally deputized and could supplement remaining CBs Zoe Morse and Kayla Sharples. Honeslty, how the defense will lineup is anyone’s guess. In goal, Emily Boyd will be the favorite to start if healthy but expect Cassie Miller to also get time.

Season Projections

Challenge Cup

With USWNT players missing the first couple of games, players across the league returning from injury, and coaches experimenting with lineups and tactics, It’s impossible to project with any certainty how the tournament will go. No official prediction here, but the Red Stars have as good a chance as anyone.

NWSL Shield and Championship

Following the addition of Becky Sauerbrunn last season the further acquisition of Crystal Dunn makes Portland Thorns FC the clear frontrunners. Expect them to be the best team in the regular season and win the whole darn thing at the end.

Surprise Team: OL Reign

With Megan Rapinoe expected to contribute again and the looming additions of players from Olympique Lyonnais in France (likely goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi and midfielder Dzsenifer Marozsan) arriving in the summer, look for the Washington-based team to make strides under their new French ownership

Red Stars

The squad is strong and depth will be tested by the Olympics, but the quality and depth in midfield provide a great foundation no matter who’s in the attack.

Regular Season Prediction: 2nd

Playoff Prediction: Semi-Finals (I know, I know, I know)