Chicago Red Stars Vs North Carolina Courage: Challenge Cup Preview

Chicago Red Stars (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)
Chicago Red Stars (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images) /

With the varied approaches to the NWSL Challenge Cup, we try to pick apart the different possibilities for when the Chicago Red Stars and North Carola Courage face one another on Sunday.

The nature of the NWSL Challenge Cup makes game previews difficult. Different teams have approached the tournament differently. Some are treating it like the missing regular season; others are looking at it more like a preseason.

The Chicago Red Stars, who face the North Carolina Courage on Sunday, sit in the latter category after heavily rotating in midweek. So when they face the best team in the league, how Rory Dames and his opposite number set up will heavily dictate the pattern of the match.

With that in mind, we preview the four different scenarios that could play out depending on the teams that are selected.

Chicago A-Team vs. North Carolina A-Team

A rematch of the NWSL Cup final last season, the Chicago Red Stars would be keen for revenge in this situation, putting out their best lineup in order to get their first win of the tournament. The North Carolina Courage, in turn, have a superb team that has dominated the NWSL in recent years. This is the sort of game that should be really exciting. A fully prepared Red Stars against a brilliant but possibly exhausted North Carolina team seems to be an even match-up on paper.

Chicago B-Team vs. North Carolina A-Team

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Rory Dames wants to rotate his team, provide his key players with rest, and offer opportunities to others in the squad. He even made a goalkeeper substitution in the last game to allow Cassie Miller to play for a half. Given that every team makes the knockout round, there is no pressure on the early-stage matches. Should the Courage play the same way they have in the first half of the tournament, this outcome would likely not be very friendly towards the Red Stars. The Chicago B-Team did hold an aggressive Portland team scoreless, but the Courage are a different animal.

Chicago A-Team vs North Carolina B-Team

Dames may play his strongest team as it is scheduled in the rotation. The opening defeat to the Washington Spirit featured a normal first-team lineup. The Portland draw contained no players from the first game’s starting line-up. It’s only natural that this would be when the A-Team returns. But what if the Courage decide that they’ve already pretty much tied up the first seed and rotate heavily? They are the only team to have won their first two games and could rest key stars. In this instance, Chicago would be the favorites, though such is the strength of the Courage squad that a reserve team still poses serious problems.

Chicago B-Team vs North Carolina B-Team:

Finally, what if the North Carolina Courage rotate and the Chicago Red Stars take a preseason approach? This is the most chaotic of the four possibilities. Players who normally wouldn’t have a chance at seeing the pitch now face off against one another as two of the best teams in the league compete following last season’s NWSL final. Just imagine that chaos.

Of the four, the first seems the most likely. Early reports suggest that the Chicago Red Stars will field the same team went up against Washington in the first game and it’s highly out of character for NCC coach Paul Riley to back down against any challenge.

Projected XI:

Chicago Red Stars (4-3-3): Alyssa Naeher; Bianca St. Georges, Sarah Gorden, Julie Ertz, Casey Short; Morgan Gautrat, Vanessa DiBernardo, Danielle Colaprico; Yuki Nagasato, Rachel Hill, Kealia Watt

North Carolina Courage (4-2-2-2): Stephanie Labbe; Addisyn Merrick, Abby Dahlkemper, Abby Erceg, Jaelene Daniels; Denise O’Sullivan, Sam Mewis; Crystal Dunn, Debinha; Kristen Hamilton, Lynn Williams

Next. Chicago Red Stars Vs Portland Thorns: 3 things we learned. dark

How To Watch:

Sunday, July 5th, 11:30 AM CDT; At Zions Bank Stadium in Sandy, UT, online with CBS All-Access and Twitch (foreign markets only)