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The Chicago Red Stars are in the playoffs once again, facing North Carolina. After a change in date and locations, the two teams are set to face off tonight in Portland, Oregon as they vie for a spot in the NWSL Championship.

Here are the keys to the match:

Lock Down Defense
North Carolina Courage enters the match scoring a league-high 53 goals, while only conceding 17 in 24 matches. Lynn Williams led the team with 14 goals, while Debinha and Crystal Dunn scored eight each. Meanwhile, slotting the balls through was league assist leader Jessica McDonald, who managed to tally eight assists and seven goals in 2018. The Courage have managed to have one of the best seasons in women’s soccer history.

“You want to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best, so we’re excited about the opportunity to compete against them,” Red Stars head coach Rory Dames said. “North Carolina’s the best women’s team that has played in a professional league in this country.”

The veteran backline for Chicago led by Julie Ertz and Alyssa Naeher, will look to control the surging North Carolina offense throughout the match. The Red Stars allowed 28 goals this season, fourth-best in the league.

The International Connection
Sam Kerr and Yuki Nagasato lead the attack for Chicago. Kerr will be playing in her first NWSL Playoffs and will look to continue to add goals to her league leading total (16). The two internationals have combined with one another for nine goals this season. During the three matchups against the two clubs, either Nagasato or Kerr have put up a point for Chicago.

The Courage backline has their eye on Kerr and know what she is capable of.

“I think [Kerr is] is just one of those players that’s unstoppable at the moment. She’s in the top form of her career and she is unstoppable. She’s scoring in almost every single game,” Courage defender Abby Erceg said. “I think we have to find a way to shut her down as best as possible.”

Second Half Push
Both teams have finished their chances when called upon and have done it by any means possible. The Courage have managed to score 10 goals with their head, 13 with their left foot and 29 with their right. Meanwhile, the Red Stars have finished 11 with their head, five with the left and 21 with their right foot.

The Courage have managed to score 23 goals after the 61st minute, so it will be up to Chicago to close them down as the going gets tough. That time marks where Chicago has allowed 14 of their 28 conceded goals. However, the Courage have allowed 14 of their 17 goals allowed in the second half of play. The Red Stars have scored over half their goals in the second half, so a push in the second half by both teams would be no surprise.

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