Chicago Red Stars Vs OL Reign: Challenge Cup Preview

Chicago Red Stars, OL Reign, Bethany Balcer (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)
Chicago Red Stars, OL Reign, Bethany Balcer (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images) /

In the first knockout round of the NWSL Challenge Cup, the Chicago Red Stars face OL Reign. Here is a full match preview of the first-round tie.

It’s finally here. The knockout round of the NWSL Challenge Cup has arrived. The Chicago Red Stars are the sixth seed and, after looking like they would face the Washington Spirit, are now pitted against a team they haven’t faced yet in Utah: the newly rebranded OL Reign.

First, let’s look at the injuries. Yuki Nagasato was a late scratch for the Chicago Red Stars’ game against the Royals and, according to coach Rory Dames, they won’t be risking her here. The same was said of Morgan Gautrat, who picked up a bone bruise last time out. Returning was Tierna Davidson, who saw limited minutes against Utah, but that could be a sign that she is now able to start.

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OL Reign, meanwhile, came into this tournament with some lowered expectations due to the major absence of Megan Rapinoe. But while the attack has suffered in her absence, a greater concern is their defensive record. They may have only conceded two goals so far, but the manner of their defending, extremely desperate and last-ditch, is entirely unsustainable. At some point, the defense will not be able to handle the strain.

One booming star for the Reign is Bethany Balcer. Undrafted coming out of an NAIA college program in 2019, she exploded onto the scene in her rookie season, winning Rookie of the Year. She has also scored the team’s only goal of the Challenge Cup in a 1-0 victory over the Utah Royals. OL Reign haven’t looked dangerous, but Balcer will be a big factor in this game.

OL Reign are not the only team struggling in attacking areas. Scoring is still a major issue for the Chicago Red Stars. They did score once in their last outing, but it came from Casey Short, a defender. That means a Red Stars attacker is yet to score. This could be a contest between two teams who seem incapable of scoring. A long night is ahead.

But, if it is going to be a war of attrition, the Chicago Red Stars seem to be the best-suited team. Sure, goals are a problem, but the Red Stars have been in the driver’s seat in each of the last three games. The draw to Portland stemmed from poor play in the final third. They lost North Carolina thanks to a set-piece, and Utah were never in the game. The Red Stars, despite not really knowing what to do with it, seem to have a hold over their opponents. In the end, that should be enough to see them over the line.

Projected XI:

Chicago Red Stars (4-3-3): Alyssa Naeher; Bianca St. Georges, Sarah Gorden, Tierna Davidson, Casey Short; Julie Ertz, Vanessa DiBernardo, Danielle Colaprico; Kealia Watt, Savannah McCaskill, Rachel Hill

OL Reign (4-1-2-3): Casey Murphy; Taylor Smith, Amber Brooks, Lauren Barnes, Celia Jimenez; Allie Long; Rosie White, Dani Weatherholt; Yuka Momiki, Bethany Balcer, Jodie Taylor

Chicago Red Stars Vs Utah Royals: 3 things we learned. dark. Next

How To Watch:

Saturday, July 18th, 9:00 PM CDT; At Zions Bank Stadium in Sandy, UT, online with CBS All-Access and Twitch (foreign markets only)