The NWSL is back with an unexpected 2021 edition of the NWSL Challenge Cup. The Chicago Red Stars won’t have to wait very long to start as they will be playing in the first game of the tournament, a rematch of last season’s final against the Houston Dash.
While much of the league is still hesitant about re-opening stadiums, it appears that this season opener will have fans at BBVA Stadium. So let’s look at what those fans will have prepared for them this Friday night after a very busy offseason in the NWSL.
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First of all, there’s a lot of players who will not be making it to this game, due to injuries and international call-ups. Someone thought it was a good idea to start the tournament right in the middle of an international window, so the Chicago Red Stars will be missing Alyssa Naeher, Tierna Davidson, and Julie Ertz, while the Houston Dash will be without Jane Campbell, Allysha Chapman, Sophie Schmidt, Nichele Prince, and Rachel Daly. Not only will Chicago’s depth be tested by call-ups, but Bianca St Georges and Mallory Pugh will both be out with long-term injuries they picked up during the offseason. While she may not be read to play yet, Casey Krueger may end up on the bench despite nursing an injury that left her out of the current United States women’s national team camp.
Absences really are the story of this game, as the Houston Dash will absolutely miss Jane Campbell’s presence in goal. Campbell is one of the top goalkeepers in the NWSL, which shows with her call-up to the USWNT. Unfortunately, that call-up creates problems for the Houston Dash, who don’t really have a designated back up yet. Amanda Dennis and Lindsey Harris were both signed prior to the 2020 season, but saw a combined 0 minutes on the pitch during both the 2020 Challenge Cup and the subsequent Fall Series. If I were to guess, I think that Lindsey Harris would have the edge as a former Goalkeeper of the Year in the Norwegian league.
But even without Jane Campbell, the Houston Dash’s defense is pretty solid. For a team playing without its stars, Houston’s back line is made up of some solid NWSL regulars including Katie Naughton, Megan Oyster, and breakout player of last season, Ally Prisock. Daneisha Blackwood, despite being a Jamaican national team player, is still available for Houston in this match.
On the other hand, the Chicago Red Stars are specifically lacking in that same security. The Red Stars only have one defender called up to the national team, but two key fullbacks are still out with injuries. Bianca St Georges recently had surgery and will be out for an extended period and Casey Krueger is still reportedly not ready to play yet. All this while the team still doesn’t have a single true center-back. Sarah Gorden has worked well being converted to the center, but almost all of the Chicago defense are naturally fullbacks, making that central defense very questionable.
However, like how Houston has their own protective line in front of their weakness, the Chicago Red Stars’ first line of defense is going to be their amazing midfield. Danielle Colaprico and Vanessa DiBernardo have played for Chicago for over five years and have been consistent starters in that time for a reason. DiBernardo has the technical ability to find passes into the attack and Colaprico is just a prototypical destroyer in the defensive midfield area. As coach Rory Dames himself alluded to in a press conference this week, the midfield three of Colaprico, DiBernardo, and Morgan Gautrat will be hard to beat.
Chicago Red Stars (4-3-3): Emily Boyd; Arin Wright, Zoe Morse, Sarah Gorden, Kayla Sharples; Danielle Colaprico, Morgan Gautrat, Vanessa DiBernardo; Rachel Hill, Sarah Luebbert, Kealia Watt
Houston Dash (4-2-3-1): Lindsey Harris; Daneisha Blackwood, Katie Naughton, Megan Oyster, Ally Prisock; Shea Groom, Christine Nairn; Bridgette Andrzejewski, Bri Visalli, Katie Stengel; Veronica Latsko
How To Watch
Friday, April 9th, 7:30 PM CDT; At BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, TX, on CBS Sports Network and online on Twitch (foreign markets only)