Red Stars face Courage in semifinals rematch

CHICAGO – After falling to the North Carolina Courage in last season’s NWSL semifinals, the Chicago Red Stars are hungry for redemption at the start of the 2019 NWSL regular season. The Red Stars are embracing the opportunity to change the narrative with its first game of the season set against the defending champions. As the two teams embark on what’s bound to be a thrilling season opener this weekend, here are the three keys to the match:

New Blood

The Red Stars selected defender Tierna Davidson from Stanford with this year’s first overall pick in the NWSL College Draft. Davidson was named the 2018 U.S. Soccer Young Female Player of the Year and holds 19 caps with the USWNT, going on to play in friendlies for the U.S. WNT ahead in preparation for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

In these appearances, Davidson had opportunities to mesh with core Red Stars players Julie Ertz, Casey Short and Alyssa Naeher on the international stage that will be a subject of focus as the defender makes her NWSL debut this weekend.

Davidson’s presence in the backline changes the lineup for Chicago. Her role as a center defender allows Ertz to move up to the central midfield role, something that has resulted in success when she plays that position for the U.S. WNT and last season for Chicago.

In the semifinals and finals in 2018, the Courage were able to score within the first 15 minutes, not allowing their opponents to settle into the match. The new addition of Davidson along with her central defensive partner Katie Naughton, voted the Red Stars Defender of the Year, will be tasked with stopping a deadly North Carolina offense.

However, Davidson has proven that she can stifle some of the top attacks in the world during her time with the U.S. WNT, and having the veteran players in Naughton, along with Arin Wright (nee Gilliland), Casey Short and Sarah Gorden on the backline will help the rookie fit in seamlessly.

Battle of the Brick Walls

North Carolina added Canadian Women’s National Team starting goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé this offseason, making her return to the NWSL after a brief tenure with the Washington Spirit in the 2016 and 2017 seasons. Labbé has 59 caps with the national team and holds a bronze medal from the 2016 Summer Olympics, and has posted three consecutive clean sheets in her last three international appearances. Meanwhile, Naeher is riding high after three straight wins with the U.S. WNT.

All eyes will be on Labbé and Naeher as they battle for three points on Saturday. The two talented veteran goalkeepers will be tested with the firepower that comes from both team’s offenses. If the Red Stars can test a returning Labbé often, they may sour her return to the NWSL.

From Front to Back

Both the Red Stars and Courage are stacked with amazing talent in every position on the pitch that should get fans excited as NWSL kicks off.

For the defending champs, Labbe has the backline support of U.S. WNT defender Abby Dahlkemper and New Zealand International Abby Erceg. Midfielders Crystal Dunn, McCall Zerboni, Heather O’Reilly and Deinha follow; and the attack features NWSL Championship MVP Jessica McDonald and Golden Boot runner-up Lynn Williams.

The Red Stars can answer with Naeher in net and Davidson, Naughton and Wright in defense. Danielle Colaprico, Vanessa Dibernardo and Morgan Brian are all options to join Ertz in a stacked midfield; and the attack features Yuki Nagasato, newly acquired Katie Johnson and Maria Sanchez to join back-to-back NWSL Golden Boot Winner Sam Kerr.

Both teams have players that can individually make a huge impact and win the game. Which impact players take the game into their control will have major implications as to who comes away with a result in the season opener.

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