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The Penultimate Match: Chicago Red Stars vs Portland Thorns, NWSL Week 21 Preview

The Chicago Red Stars travel to “The City of Roses” to take on league leaders, the Portland Thorns.

NWSL: Portland Thorns FC at Chicago Red Stars Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Red Stars are guaranteed a playoff spot if they are to win their final two regular season matches, regardless of the results of other teams in the league. As of Saturday afternoon, the Red Stars sit just one place above playoff hopefuls Angel City, and two above the North Carolina Current, who have won four of their last five matches.

With the Red Stars’ playoff fate now entirely in their own hands, they will need to bounce back from their 1-0 defeat to the Houston Dash in their last match with a result against Portland on Sunday.

Portland currently lead the league and are unbeaten in their last three matches. However, the Red Stars have proved this season that they are capable of competing with the best.

Chicago Red Stars record vs Portland Thorns: 3W-10D-10L

Previously On…

The Thorns are unbeaten in their last three, outscoring their opponents 6-1. The Thorns also boast the league’s second most prolific scorer, Sophia Smith, who has 12 goals this campaign. Only Alex Morgan of the San Diego Wave has more with 15.

Other notable contributors in Portland’s attack include Hina Sugita and legendary Canadian international, Christine Sinclair, who both have 5 goals this season.

Having only conceded three in their last four matches, the Chicago Red Stars will be looking to again tighten up at the back in order to pick up a much needed result on the road.

Suggested Lineup

Naeher in goal with the same back three from the previous four matches should be the defensive unit that Chris Petrucelli goes with.

It is a toss up between Bianca St-Georges and Rachel Hill as the right wing back, but in this team it’s St-Georges who gets the nod. Sarah Luebbert on the left side is a little bit of an easier choice given that she is the only left footed player out of herself, Hill, and St-Georges.

Colaprico and DiBernardo, who have started every league match this season, will play as the two in central midfield.

Up front, it could be Ella Stevens as the nine, but I'd rather see Ava Cook the start with the Yuki Nagasato on the right and Mallory Pugh on the left.

Keys to the Match

Getting the Early Goal: After failing to score in their last match, it is crucial for the Red Stars to get one early in order to boost the team’s confidence in front of net. The early goal will also allow the Red Stars to focus on the defensive side of things, spending more energy focusing on tightening up at the back and neutralizing star forward, Sophia Smith. An early goal will set the tone of the match, and will dictate how the Red Stars play in a very positive way.

Star Power: After tallying two goals and two assists in the 4-0 routs against Kansas City and Louisville, Pugh has been essential to the Red Stars putting the ball in the back of the net in recent matches and throughout the entirety of this season. The USWNT star is currently fourth in the golden boot race on ten goals, and the Red Stars will be needing her to add to her tally to get them over the line in this crucial match.

Defensive Solidity: After scoring three in their last match against Racing Louisville, Chicago will have to make sure that they are defensively sound against a Portland team that likes to score goals. The back three of Kowalski, Morse, and Milazzo have all been solid in recent matches, and Alyssa Naeher in goal has made some big stops to help the Red Stars get some results. Most notably against the OL Reign, when Naeher produced save after save to force an important 2-2 draw. It is essential that the form of the defensive players continues, and that the four across the midfield provide the defense all the support that they can offer in what will be a battle for three points.

How To Watch

Date + Time: September 25, 3:00 P.M. CST

TV: The U

Stream: Paramount +, Twitch (international)

Final Thoughts

It is in their hands now. If they win out, the Red Stars are guaranteed a playoff season, but a loss or tie puts these playoff dreams in jeopardy, and may put their fate in the hands of their competitors. Obviously going against the league leaders is always going to be a tough task, but the Red Stars have proved this season that they have the quality to get a result against any team in the league.

Last time out, it was a hard fought 2-2 draw between these two sides, and the Red Stars will most definitely be hungry to pull through on Sunday with all three points.

3-2 Red Stars.