The Red Stars are on the road again this weekend as they take on the North Carolina Courage. Currently, North Carolina sits bottom of the league, and the Red Stars should be looking at this match as a massive opportunity to make up the points that they lost in their 1-0 defeat to Angel City last weekend. When the Red Stars took on the Courage for the first time this season in July, the Red Stars came back from a two-goal deficit to force a draw in dramatic fashion. Heading into second-half stoppage time, the Red Stars trailed by two goals to nil. However, Sarah Griffith scored in the 91st minute to give the Red Stars the hope that they needed to produce an equalizing goal in the 95th minute. In what was the last action of the match, Amanda Kowalski rose highest on a corner kick to earn the Red Stars a point at Bridgeview.
A Red Stars win this weekend would be huge for the Red Stars’ playoff aspirations. Three points would give the Red Stars some cushion, as they currently sit sixth in the table - the NWSL’s last playoff spot. Not only will a win give the Red Stars some form of security, but would also put pressure on the teams near them in the table. Right now, the point gap between the Red Stars in 6th place and the Wave in 3rd is just 2 with the Red Stars also having a game in hand.
As the Red Stars continue to battle for their playoff position in this final stretch of the season, the Red Stars must take all the points from a winnable fixture like this.
Winless in over two months, North Carolina will be looking to end this bad run of form with a win on their home turf this Saturday. Having conceded two goals in second-half stoppage time to split the points with the Red Stars earlier in the season, the Courage will be certain to better manage this fixture in order to make amends for that unfortunate draw. The Courage have not been short of goals this season, having scored 3 in 6 of their 12 matches so far this season. However, they have been lax defensively and has been the reason why teams such as Chicago have been able to get results against them in high-scoring affairs. It is essential to the Courage that they continue to score goals, but also see out the game to the final whistle to ensure them a positive result.
The wingbacks and wide players will be the key to unlocking North Carolina’s defense. Playing a box midfield, North Carolina’s only true wide players are their outside backs in a back four, and Chicago should be looking to exploit this by creating overload situations in wide areas. Hence, playing a 3-4-3 as they have been all season will play in Chicago’s favor. Hopefully, Mallory Pugh is fit for Saturday’s match, following her absence through injury in the Red Stars’ last game. Without Pugh, the Red Stars failed to score against Angel City and lacked real quality when it came to finishing off good opportunities. The only change in last week’s suggested lineup is Sarah Griffith starting at the nine over Ava Cook. When Griffith came in off the bench for the Red Stars, much of the Red Stars’ attacking play was through her, and she created one of the Red Stars’ best chances of the match in the final minutes of regulation. Although she was unable to finish off a great individual effort, she looked dangerous and could be key to the Red Stars going forward, especially if Pugh is ruled out yet again through injury.
Keys to the Match
Overloading the Wide Areas: As mentioned in the last paragraph, North Carolina plays a 4-4-2 with a midfield box. Therefore, the Red Stars should approach this match with a plan to exploit the wide areas, in which they will be able to create overloads through their wingbacks and front 3. Sarah Luebbert especially has looked dangerous in recent fixtures and could be key in creating chances for the Red Stars from wide positions. If Mallory Pugh is fit, the duo of Pugh and Luebbert on the left could cause trouble for the Courage, with Pugh driving inside onto her right, and Luebbert looking to put balls in with her dangerous left foot.
Not Getting Overrun in the Middle: While the Red Stars should see the midfield box as an opportunity to make the most of their wide players, they should also look at it as a concern for the midfield pairing of Colaprico and DiBernardo. To make sure the two central players for the Red Stars are not overrun and outnumbered throughout the match, it will be essential that the front three pinches in and slides into attacking midfield positions. We have seen this all season given how fluid the Red stars’ front 3 is, and we should be expecting Yuki Nagasato and Mallory Pugh especially to be dropping into these midfield positions to both receive and win the ball back.
Tightening up at the Back: The Courage like to score goals and the Red Stars defense has to make sure to keep North Carolina’s attack at bay. The Red Stars have only allowed two goals in their last three matches, but have been subject to two, one nil defeats in this stretch of games. Therefore, the clean sheet should be the objective for Saturday. If the Red Stars can do this, then they should be confident that they can achieve a victory. Given the Red Stars’ dangerous attack and North Carolina’s at times, questionable defense, a Chicago clean sheet is imperative and could be the key to a Red Stars victory.
How To Watch
Time: 6:00 PM
The Red Stars have had a difficult couple of months, but this current North Carolina team is not capable enough defensively to cope with the offensive star power provided by Mallory Pugh. The Courage are winless in their last six, conceding 16 in the span, so the Red Stars should be able to get it done if they can be solid defensively. A win would provide a crucial three points in a tight playoff race.
Score Prediction: 3-1 Red Stars