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A week of losses for the Chicago Red Stars

The Chicago Red Stars lost 2-0 on Tuesday evening to OL Reign in arguably their poorest performance of the season. The next morning, we learned they’d be losing Casey Krueger to the Olympic team along with Tierna Davidson, Julie Ertz and Alyssa Naeher.

Shaina Benhiyoun

On Wednesday morning, United States Women’s National Team head coach Vlatko Andonovsky announced the 18-player roster and four alternates for the 2020 Olympic team.

As expected, the Red Stars will send goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, defender Tierna Davidson and midfielder Julie Ertz (despite her continuing recovery from a knee injury) to Tokyo. The surprise came when defender Casey Krueger was named as the alternate defender despite not having playing for the USWNT since the SheBelievesCup earlier this year.

As for why Krueger got the nod over Gotham FC’s Margaret Purce, my guess is because of Krueger’s ability to play anywhere along a backline. Purce typically plays as a right-back or right-winger (and even sometimes as a striker for Gotham), with Lynn Williams being preferred for that more attacking option.

Red Stars fans woke up to this news after the team suffered a 2-0 loss in Tacoma against OL Reign that could have been much worse. So how much concern should there be between the roster losses and current form? How much of an impact will the Olympic losses have?

GOALKEEPER: A Battle For Second

If Alyssa Naeher is healthy and available, she is going to start for the Red Stars. The team now has two capable options to turn to during the Olympics: Emily Boyd, who recently returned to full training after recovering from an ACL injury but has not played since 2019, and Cassie Miller, who made two starts in place of Naeher at this year’s challenge cup.

Expect Rory Dames to rotate between the two in then next couple of games and then make a decision on if there will be an interim number one or if the rotation will continue.

DEFENSE: Buckle Up

The Red Stars are sending three of their preferred starting four defenders to Tokyo along with Naeher. For a team that usually prides itself on defensive solidity, the losses are massive. With Krueger joining Ertz and Davidson on the plane, expect Sarah Gorden to slot in at center-back alongside Kayla Sharples in most matches with Zoe Morse as their backup. Newly fit Bianca St. Georges, who made her first start of the season on Tuesday night, will likely have the right-back job to herself while Arin Wright and rookie Tatum Milazzo will both see significant time at left back. Zoey Goralski could also be an option at fullback, with Milazzo and St. Georges also providing the flexibility to play on either flank.

On Tuesday night, Sharples failing to clear a ball and instead heading it down perfectly for the pressing Reign players led to the first goal. Gorden losing her mark on Bethany Balcer resulted in the second. Those are the sort of mistakes that those players in particular, as the most experienced defenders, can’t be making.

Regardless of who starts each game, it’s going to be make-shift. The Red Stars’ ability to press effectively, and thus limit the number of difficult situations the defense faces, will be key.

MIDFIELD AND FORWARDS: No New Absences, But Added Pressure

The Red Stars rotated their entire front three on Tuesday, replacing Mallory Pugh, Kealia Watt and Rachel Hill with Katie Johnson, Makenzy Doniak and Alyssa Mautz. It didn’t go well, a game-long reminder of the Red Stars’ lack of attacking depth and reliance on Pugh to generate offense.

If the Red Stars are to win games between now and mid-August, she’s going to have to score and Kealia Watt is going to need to help.

In midfield, getting Danielle Colaprico back will be a huge boost (she’s missed the last two games with a hip injury) to the spine of the team. In addition to Pugh and Watt being relied on to create and finish chances, it will be the likes of Colaprico, Morgan Gautrat and Vanessa DiBernardo who will need to control games.

The Red Stars have already endured two three-game weeks and played more games than any other team in the league at the time of writing, so there may not be a need for such mass rotation again.

Bottom line: the star players on this team, particularly in midfield and attack, need to contribute and stay healthy.

After Tuesday’s game, the Red Stars didn’t want to blame the travel or the rotation. But this is what happens when a roster lacks depth: tired legs, and a significant drop-off in quality when the stars have to sit or are on the other side of the world. OL Reign are the opposite, a team that will struggle to get all their stars on the field at the same time because they have so many of them.

The Red Stars over the next two months will be even thinner than the roster we saw on Tuesday night. Moreover, Alyssa Naeher won’t be there to bail them out. Nothing I’ve written here isn’t something the players (or you) don’t already know. The team needs to step up, not just one or two players, and the coming weeks will present no shortage of opportunities to show that lessons have been learned from a disappointing start to the season punctuated by Tuesday’s loss.