NWSL Challenge Cup Preview: Chicago Red Stars vs Kansas City

Julie Ertz #8 of the Chicago Red Stars motions to teammates during a game between Chicago Red Stars and North Carolina Courage. (Photo by Andy Mead/ISI Photos/Getty Images).
Julie Ertz #8 of the Chicago Red Stars motions to teammates during a game between Chicago Red Stars and North Carolina Courage. (Photo by Andy Mead/ISI Photos/Getty Images). /

After a disappointing loss last week against the Portland Thorns, the Chicago Red Stars look ahead to their next game. This one will be against the still yet-to-be-fully-named Kansas City NWSL. Both teams have lost at least one game, putting them at a massive disadvantage in the Challenge Cup group where only the top team goes to the final.

As for the unavailable players, it appears that the international break is over, meaning that all the international players should be returning. For the Chicago Red Stars, this means Alyssa Naeher, Tierna Davidson, and Julie Ertz. Kansas City will only have one player returning, Desiree Scott. Kayla Sharples missed the last game for the Red Stars due to COVID protocol, but with the league reporting that no one tested positive, she may be cleared to play again. Mallory Pugh has been seen practicing with the squad, though her timeline to return is still unclear. As for Kansas City, they will be without Kristen Edmonds who is only serving the first game of her now two game suspension.

Here are three things to look out for in this coming matchup.

Where’s Ertz?

Julie Ertz is quite possibly the best player in the world. While goalscorers usually get the largest amounts of attention, Ertz has somehow built herself a reputation off of pure grit. There are very few players that you can honestly say could play anywhere, but Ertz is that player. The problem is that no one actually knows where to play her anymore.

Ertz is naturally a defender, playing at fullback originally for the national team before moving to centerback. But over the past few years, Chicago Red Stars coach Rory Dames has placed her in a bunch of different positions including her natural centerback, but also at holding midfield and even up in the 10 spot. The problem is that the Red Stars starting lineup is so good it’s hard to see where she goes at the moment.

Dames alluded to the main midfield three at a press conference before the Houston game, saying it would “be a hard group to crack.” So that would put Ertz back in defense. But with Tierna Davidson and Sarah Gorden both staking a claim at centerback, it might not be best to get in between that. So we’ll see how Dames handles this problem.

Amy the Immortal

In every generation of athletes, there are those who stand out among the rest and go on to be the best. They are the ones who are up on the billboards with all the young players wanting to emulate them. But also in each generation are those players who simply outlast everyone. They live on this strange balance of not quite being good enough to be seen as the best, but still good enough to continue to be valued by their team as a member of the first team squad. So they play for years and years. Amy Rodriguez is the perfect example of this archetype.

Amy Rodriguez started her career among the best in her generation. In her freshman year at the University of Southern California, she won the Trojans’ first NCAA Women’s Soccer Championship and by her senior year she was called up to the United States Women’s National Team for the 2008 Olympics. Rodriguez played through the entire lifespan of the Women’s Professional Soccer league, but by the time she reached the NWSL, her career started to be a bit questionable.

Rodriguez has missed a lot time away from her team, whether through maternity or injury, but has come back as a solid starter every single time. Once again, she will be called on by her team to be an important piece of the roster.

Just One More

While the Chicago Red Stars have played 2 games now, a draw against the Houston Dash and a loss against the Portland Thorns, Kansas City has only played the one explosive game against the Portland Thorns. The thought experiment going into this game is whether it will be better for Kansas City, a team that has been well rested since their last game, or the Red Stars, who will have more match sharpness and a better understanding of what they need to fix.

My bet is that the rested players will have an easier time. Last season’s NWSL Challenge Cup showed that the biggest advantage a team could have was players who hadn’t already played three games in the past week. While the overall quality is on Chicago’s side, Kansas City certainly has the fitness to outlast them.

Projected XI

Chicago Red Stars (4-3-3): Alyssa Naeher; Casey Krueger, Sarah Gorden, Julie Ertz, Tierna Davidson; Danielle Colaprico, Morgan Gautrat, Vanessa DiBernardo; Arin Wright, Katie Johnson, Kealia Watt

Kansas City (4-3-3): Abby Smith; Michelle Maemone, Kate Del Fava, Rachel Corsie, Katie Bowen; Victoria Pickett, Lo’eau LaBonta, Desiree Scott; Brittany Ratcliffe, Amy Rodriguez, Michele Vasconcelos

How To Watch

Wednesday, April 21st, 5:30 PM CDT; At SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview, IL, online on Paramount+ and Twitch (foreign markets only)

(Note: The game was postponed from Tuesday, April 20th due to inclement weather)