CHICAGO — The Chicago Red Stars opened the 2019 NWSL regular season last weekend with a 1-1 draw against defending champions North Carolina Courage, led by Sam Kerr’s early goal in the 26th minute and a phenomenal performance by veteran goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher. As U.S. Women’s National Team regulars Julie Ertz and Alyssa Naeher face their match in Portland mainstays Tobin Heath and Lindsey Horan this weekend, here are the keys to the game:
Alyssa Naeher Being Alyssa Naeher
In her season debut, Alyssa Naeher posted two punches and five saves in a Player of the Match performance. Naeher’s task this week is similar, facing off against Tobin Heath and reigning NWSL MVP Lindsey Horan. Naeher is undoubtedly one of the world’s top goalkeepers and a staple for the U.S. WNT. Finding similar success to last week’s game for Naeher could be vital to the Red Stars.
Last year’s matchups between the Red Stars and Thorns either ended in a draw or a one-goal margin. One save could decide the result, and “Big Save” Naeher’s heroics could be needed in this game with such a tight margin separating the teams in the past.
Set Yuki Up for Success
Hot Time in Old Town’s Sandra Herrera said it best when they identified forward Yuki Nagasato as “the leader of [Sam Kerr’s] entire pitstop crew,” if the team were indeed in the racing business. To ensure the ball gets to the feet of two-time NWSL Golden Boot winner Kerr, the entire Red Stars lineup must continue making smart and precise passes that reach Nagasato.
From this point, Nagasato can wield both her experience and creative abilities to set up and capitalize on key chances in front of the net. Her awareness is crucial to the offense’s success, with her ability in transition usually the key for a Chicago goal.
Shutting Down Heath & Horan
Thorns forward Heath has registered at least a goal or an assist in seven consecutive games dating back to the 2018 NWSL season. Last week she earned NSWL Week One Player of the Week honors for her goal in Portland’s victory over Orlando. Midfielder Lindsey Horan is on her way back to her MVP form. Her creating an Orlando turnover early in last weekend’s match was almost responsible for a Portland goal.
Heath’s play is on the wings, putting her up against the outside backs of Arin Wright (sans Gilliland) and Sarah Gorden, meaning that the Portland winger won’t have her usual speed advantage. Horan plays a more central position, putting her up against Chicago’s centreback pairing of Tierna Davidson and Katie Naughton, with Julie Ertz in a defensive midfield role. In the last two weeks, top overall pick Davidson has faced many of her U.S. WNT opponents and her ability to stop another one of her international teammates will go a long way for the young star.