This Sunday, the Red Stars return to what they know as home, following a noisy Lollapalooza weekend at Soldier Field. The Red Stars will be looking for their first win since the beginning of July. The last three points the Red Stars picked up were in the form of a 3-0 win on the road against this weekend’s opponents. A hungry, form-stricken Red Stars side will be looking to repeat this result on Sunday, back at Bridgeview.
A Red Stars win would guarantee them to climb from fifth to fourth in the table, and depending on the result of the OL Reign vs. Houston Dash match, the Red Stars could go into the week sitting as high as third. Currently holding a playoff spot, Chicago should favor their odds to best the New Jersey/New York side for the second time this season.
Last time out against Gotham, the Red Stars walked away from Red Bull Arena with three goals and three points. Although the Red Stars managed to keep a clean sheet, Gotham certainly had their chances to make the game interesting. Gotham were certainly dangerous from wide areas, and crosses into the box, which the Red Stars struggled to deal with. Chicago’s attack proved formidable as Gotham struggled to convert chances into goals.
A win for the Red Stars this weekend could prove pivotal in getting them back on track to compete with the league’s best, especially after a poor run of form in July.
The story of Gotham’s season has been one of inconsistent goal scoring and poor defensive displays on many occasions. The New York/New Jersey outfit are the lowest scoring team in the league with just 9 goals and have the league’s second-worst goal differential at -13. Gotham have lost their last two games, having conceded four to Houston, and five to Portland, in what was a dismal 5-0 thrashing on the road. Both teams going into Sunday’s fixture will be hungry for a win, with both sides winless in their last two matches.
Almost religiously lining up in a 3-4-3 every match, it has become the Red Stars' tactical philosophy this season to utilize the width of the pitch by employing two attacking wingbacks. Although this is the formation that is seen on television at kickoff, the Red Stars often shape into a 3-5-2 going forward, with Yuki Nagasato drifting into a number ten position to allow Rachel Hill to really get up the right flank. The starting front three this season has really fluctuated, especially with Mallory Pugh having only been available for just eight of the Red Stars' thirteen games this campaign. As long as Pugh is healthy, however, she starts. If the Red Stars want to be as dangerous up front as possible, she starts alongside Ella Stevens. Pugh leads the team in goals this season with six, and Stevens ranks second highest with three. I think it is best if the Red Stars allow Nagasato to operate more centrally, so that Pugh and Stevens are able to operate in their most natural position of central striker, working together as a strike force.
Rachel Hill has proved herself as a lock on the right flank this season and will play as the right wing-back, and the versatile Bianca St-Georges should play on the left. Playing centrally behind Yuki should be captain Di Bernardo, who had a great goal last time out against Gotham. Next to her, is the reliable Danielle Colaprico.
Moving on to the three center halves, Tatumn Milazzo and Zoe Morse are both locks, both having played every single minute of this NWSL season. The third central defender is where some uncertainty lies as regular starter Kayla Sharples is out for the season with a torn ACL. The Red Stars have been playing around with some rotation in this third spot, and as of late it has been Amanda Kowalski filling that void.
In goal should be USWNT international, and Red Stars' first choice goalkeeper, Alyssa Naeher.
Keys To The Match
Protecting The Back Three: Playing with a back three is extremely effective when you have fit wingbacks who are determined to get up and down. The downside however is when they get too high and don’t drop and tuck in, the three central defenders are often exposed on the counter attack.
There have been times during the season where the back three have been isolated and exposed as a result of the wingbacks and central players all making runs up the field at the same time. Gotham is not a goal scoring team. Therefore, the Red Stars will not have to expend all their efforts in getting everyone up the pitch, each counter, to try and score four or five goals. More so, they should approach the game focusing on getting an early goal and staying disciplined defensively, and not making silly mistakes at the back.
If the back line can organize themselves, and the rest of the team appropriately, Gotham’s forwards should be kept at bay. Defensive leadership and discipline will be key to the Red Stars getting all three points.
Getting Pugh 1 on 1: For center backs throughout the NWSL, Mallory Pugh is a nightmare to play against. With the third most goals in the NWSL (with six goals in just six starts), Pugh is a machine. Pugh has been instrumental to the Red Stars goal scoring this season, and she is most dangerous when she is taking on defenders one on one. Often we will see the USWNT international drop deep even into a number ten position and pick up the ball at midfield. Her smaller stature and quick nature allows her to turn with ease on the ball, and run at defenders and defensive midfielders one on one. On the dribble, she can break lines and either take the ball to goal, or draw in defenders to play an incisive pass and create opportunities for teammates, especially those in wide areas. It is this driving at defenders and dishing the ball wide which will put Chicago’s tactical setup of utilizing wingbacks to its greatest effect. It will be key on Sunday that the Red Stars can get the ball into Pugh’s feet, so that she can turn on the ball and create opportunities for Chicago.
Quality in The Engine Room: The Red Stars have a very technical group of starting midfielders who like to get on the ball, keep it, and play. The three in midfield from the suggested lineup (DiBernardo, Colaprico, and Nagasato), but also the deep dropping Mallory Pugh. If these central players can find the ball and find each other’s feet in the middle of the park, the Red Stars will be very tough to defeat. The Red Stars quality in the engine room, and throughout the whole team is reflected in the Chicago side averaging over fifty more passes per ninety than the Gotham side. The Red Stars must dominate the ball and the possession on Sunday to give themselves the best shot at three points. Again, it will be key that the more technically gifted Red Stars players grab the game by the scruff of the neck, and dictate the match by keeping a hold of possession, forcing Gotham’s eleven to chase.
How To Watch
Time: 5:00 PM CST
TV: The U
Streaming: Paramount +, Twitch
This marks the start of an important stretch of winnable games for the Red Stars. They have to win the winnable ones to ensure they are still in a playoff position come the final weeks of the season. 2-0 Red Stars.