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CHICAGO – The matchup between the Chicago Red Stars and Portland Thorns FC features a number of elite players who represent the United States and Australia on the international level. For Portland, you have the talents of Tobin Heath and Caitlin Foord facing off against Julie Ertz and Sam Kerr of Chicago. But it is the former Japanese star Yuki Nagasato whose underrated play could be the biggest difference in deciding the outcome of Saturday’s home opener for the Red Stars.

Calling Nagasato underrated is, in itself, an understatement. Quitely she has been the spearhead of Chicago’s attack for the past two seasons. By just watching Chicago’s opening goal of 2019 one can see the value the 2011 World Cup winner has. Against the run of play, Nagasato received the ball in Chicago’s half of the field, quickly passing the ball through the North Carolina defense and getting the ball to Kerr within feet of the 18-yard box. Yes, credit must go to the great finish, but it wouldn’t be possible without Nagasato’s ability to read the field and make split-second decisions with the ball that happen to be perfection. Let’s be real that through balls against the top defensive team in the league in 2018 she made look easy, but we couldn’t do it.

In Chicago’s final game against the Thorns, similar events led to the Red Star’s opening goal: an interception, then a pass to Nagasato, who was able to quickly find and distribute the ball over three defenders to Kerr for the goal. Cue fireworks.

Last season Nagasato played in 23 games and had a pass success rate of 76% with 43 key passes. She had 7 assists, all to Kerr, and if the opening game proved anything is that the chemistry between the two hasn’t faded, but instead might have just grown.

In addition to the assist, Nagasato scored one of her four goals last season against the opponent on Saturday. Her awareness to find the right pass can create attacking opportunities for Chicago, and considering she had a stunning 80% pass completion rate last week against a difficult North Carolina side, it looks as if Nagasato will again be the key conductor of the Red Stars offense this season.

Tickets for the doubleheader and home opener for the Red Stars are available here.

This game will also be broadcasted on NBC Sports Chicago on NBCSH+. Fans can view the NBC Sports Chicago channel finder here.