Chicago Red Stars vs North Carolina Courage: Week 5 Preview

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). /

This season’s been a bit of a toss-up so far for the Chicago Red Stars, who are entering their fifth game of the season with only a single win. But things have gotten a lot better. Despite a late loss on the road in Houston, the Red Stars look like they’re getting back into form. But when they arrive home in Bridgeview, they’ll be met with a different team getting back into form, the North Carolina Courage.

From what I can tell, there are no new major injuries for either side. The Chicago Red Stars are still missing Julie Ertz and Emily Boyd, but all other players are reportedly ready to play. And in terms of rest, both teams have had a full week since their last match. Although, the Red Stars have played one more match than the NC Courage.

The Power of Pugh

One of the biggest through-lines for the Chicago Red Stars since joining the NWSL has been their reliance on star-power in the attack. Ever since signing Christen Press in 2014, the club has had a highly effective attack built around a single player and facilitated by some amazing role pieces in the attack. However, Mallory Pugh is a bit different.

Pugh isn’t quite the focal point of an attack, she’s a facilitator. I’ve mentioned before that this is actually a bit of an issue, but the Red Stars can still build with this. Pugh can create chances and if needed, create her own shot. She showed as much in her 4th minute goal against Houston. Her dribbling ability is something that Chicago has never really had. Even Yuki Nagasato was more of a passer than a dribbler. So with Pugh’s ability to help maintain possession and even bring that possession forward, she seems to be continuing that strong history of star power in Chicago.

Underdogs Back on Top?

North Carolina Courage has always been a team that calls themselves “The Underdogs”. A lot of the time, for no reason. They have solidly been one of the most powerful teams in the league for a solid five years or so since they moved from Buffalo. So to a lot of people’s surprise this year, they started to look a bit like underdogs. Much like the Chicago Red Stars, they’ve been suffering from the rest of the league catching up with them after losing some key players. Unlike the Red Stars, they just proved everyone wrong last week.

These “Underdogs” just picked up their first win of the season in a 5-0 dismantling of Racing Louisville, a game where 4 of those 5 goals came after the hour mark. Long-time Courage stars Abby Erceg, Lynn Williams, and Debinha got a goal each with Hailie Mace coming on off the bench in the 71st minute to score a brace. The lesson to learn from here is that the Courage are not going to be conceding their title as the top NWSL team as easily as first thought. At least not as long as Debinha is still there.

Keep the Streak

Obviously, the Chicago Red Stars are not on a winning streak. But they are on a scoring streak. It’s usually not something to start tracking until it’s a really long streak; but for a team that has clearly struggled with scoring in the past year or so, it’s important momentum.

The big thing to look for now is still who will step up to finish the play. Mallory Pugh has put in a super-human effort in creating chances, but Pugh can’t finish everything herself and Kealia Watt hasn’t quite been able to finish them. It’ll be interesting to see if Makenzy Doniak can prove something against her former team and position herself as the new team goal-scorer.

Projected XI

Chicago Red Stars (4-3-3): Alyssa Naeher; Casey Krueger, Kayla Sharples, Tierna Davidson, Sarah Gorden; Morgan Gautrat, Danielle Colaprico, Vanessa DiBernardo; Mallory Pugh, Makenzy Doniak, Kealia Watt

North Carolina Courage (4-2-2): Casey Murphy; Merritt Mathias, Diane Caldwell, Abby Erceg, Carson Pickett; Hallie Mace, Sam Mewis, Denise O’Sullivan, Debinha; Jessica McDonald, Lynn Williams

How To Watch

Saturday, May 29th, 1:00 PM CDT; At SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview, IL, on Paramount+ and online internationally on Twitch