This Sunday, the Red Stars will mark their 7th straight playoff appearance against the San Diago Wave. And they have to step their game up. The single-elimination tournament structure means that the Red Stars cannot afford to have any off days. If they want to reverse their playoff curse, not one player on the roster can falter.
In 2019, the Chicago Red Stars reached the final for the first time in the franchise’s history. The match however did not go to plan as they were blown out 4-0 by the 2018 champions, the North Carolina Courage.
In 2020, the NWSL playoffs were canceled due to Covid 19, but the NWSL Challenge Cup still took place. Chicago reached the cup final but again failed to score in what was a disappointing 2-0 defeat to the Houston Dash.
After a year off, the NWSL playoffs returned in 2021, and the Red Stars again reached the final. History repeated itself however as the Red Stars were again defeated in a major final. This time, the Red Stars fell to the Washington Spirit in extra time by a score of 2-1.
After three years of falling short at the final hurdle, Chicago will certainly be hungry for redemption.
San Diego ended the season in third position on 36 points. In their final three regular season matches, they secured themselves playoff football by picking up two draws and a win.
San Diego is led by USWNT icon and regular season golden boot winner Alex Morgan. In just 17 matches, Morgan bagged 15 goals and 2 assists, contributing to 17 of the team’s 32 regular season goals.
If San Diego wants to make a deep playoff run, Morgan will have to continue to perform as she has all season long. However, there’s a chance that she may not play. Morgan, alongside midfielder Taylor Kornieck, are questionable and will be a game-time decision for the Wave. National teamer Abby Dahlkemper has already been ruled out of the match as well.
If they do play, Chicago needs to make sure that they can keep her at bay and off of the scoresheet. But if they don’t things should go the Red Stars' way.
After both missing the Angel City match through suspension, Zoe Morse and Bianca St-Georges are both available for selection on Sunday. Morse should come straight in at center-back alongside Tatumn Milazzo and Amanda Kowalski.
St-Georges should occupy one of the wingback positions, while either Sarah Luebbert or Rachel Hill will play the other.
Vanessa DiBernardo and Danielle Colaprico have played all season as two number-eights in the center of the park. However, in recent matches, DiBernardo has played in a more advanced position as Chicago still does not have a solidified starting number nine.
Chicago should trust Ava Cook or Ella Stevens at the nine in order to allow DiBernardo to play her more natural position as a number eight.
Both coming into the playoffs in red-hot form, Mal Pugh and Yuki Nagasato will start on the wings.
Keys to the Match
Be Sound at the Back: It will take a whole team effort to make sure that Alex Morgan stays off of the scoresheet on Sunday night if she plays. The clean sheet should an objective of the highest order for Chicago, and keeping it tight at the back will be crucial in this match for the Red Stars. Chicago’s three center-backs and Alyssa Naeher will need to step up big time on Sunday.
Offensive Creativity and Chance Creation: Pugh and Nagasato are both coming into this game off of a goal each in their last game. Their performance will be critical to the Red Stars’ advancing to the next ground. The return of Bianca St-Georges will also be a massive boost to Chicago’s chance creation from wide areas. If Chicago can continually create chances and threaten in the offensive third, Chicago will hopefully be able to break down this tough San Diego side.
How To Watch
Date + Time: October 16, 9:00 P.M. CST
TV: The U
Stream: Paramount +, Twitch (international)
It’s go big or go home. The end of the road for Chicago if they lose on Sunday and the playoff curse will repeat itself yet again. After the disappointment of the last three seasons, Chicago will most certainly be hungry to make it back to the final to reverse the curse and show that they are capable of becoming NWSL champions.