Utah Royals FC host Chicago Red Stars Friday night at Rio Tinto Stadium. It’s the first match since the US National team called their players into camp. The absence of O’Hara, Sauerbrunn, and Press on the Royals side and Brian, Davidson, Ertz, and Naeher for the Red Stars will significantly impact this match, but this is the reality for much of the 2019 NWSL season. We spoke to Sandra Herrera and Claire Watkins of Hot Time In Old Town to get a little insight for this match.
Chicago Red Stars have one win and two draws this season. The three teams they faced all made the playoffs last year, so they’ve arguably had one of the more difficult starts in 2019. What are the positives you’re seeing at this point in the season? Where can the team improve?
Sandra Herrera - Chicago Red Stars are used to the schedule being a grind. The team has always had a ‘marathon not a sprint’ type of mentality when it comes to running the league table, and it has worked in their favor - as we saw last year when they faced an incredibly competitive stretch end of season. They faced the three top teams in the final six weeks of the season and managed draws on all of them.
Getting results this early in an NWSL season won’t make or break your season, but stealing points off top tier teams has got to feel good. A positive for Chicago has been their depth, as it has been on full display these first few weeks of the season - with subs coming off the bench and making an impact by both scoring and assisting goals.
With U.S. National Team players now gone, we will have to see if those same depth players can be as impactful in extended minutes versus reserved minutes.
Aside from Sam Kerr, who are the goal scorers on the team? How can Utah’s defense deal with Chicago’s attack?
Claire Watkins - The frightening answer to this for Utah is that it might just be: everybody. Kerr is a known threat, but in the past two weeks Chicago has diversified their goal-scoring threats through goals from starters like Casey Short and Yuki Nagasato (who is having a hell of an early season), and subs like Michele Vasconcelos and Brooke Elby. Kerr is still the player the team is trying to connect with, but her connecting movement, along with Nagasato and Katie Johnson, makes it difficult to pin-pont a single threat from the Red Stars.
However, with Morgan Brian a surprise inclusion to the USWNT World Cup roster, and Julie Ertz a less surprising one, Chicago’s going to be drawing from deeper in their midfield pool than the coaching staff possibly expected. This will mean space opening up in the middle third, and Chicago has struggled to possess in the midfield so far this year. So for Utah, an aggressive midfield is as quality a defensive strategy as taking their luck with Chicago’s top three. Flood the midfield, and Kerr might be seeing less of the ball than she’d like.
Former Utah Royal FC player Brooke Elby got her first professional goal last weekend. How has she integrated with the team since joining last summer and what does she bring to the squad?
Sandra Herrera - NWSL PA President Brooke Elby came to Chicago via a multi-team trade with Utah and Houston. Elby arrived mid-season onto a team with surrounding narratives wondering the trade that brought her and a 2019 1st round pick signaled a white flag on the year, which, lol.
Her first post-game conference came after her first minutes with the team where she was a defensive sub in the 67th minute and helped lock up 3 points and a clean sheet against Washington Spirit. She immediately became a local fan favorite when she referred to the “Willis Tower” as the “Sears Tower” instead of Willis.
Since her arrival Elby has provided much needed defensive depth, but also brings a versatility that the coaching staff recognizes and has moved her higher up the pitch at times. More than professionally, Elby has brought a great morale, a team first mentality, and a willingness to adopt and buy into Chicago Red Stars’ already established culture.
Thank you very much for her.
Bonus question: Who are the Red Stars losing during the World Cup and how will they weather that time?
Naeher, Ertz, Brian, Davidson for now, and eventually Kerr. Head Coach Rory Dames has been preparing for the World Cup break since last season and Chicago looks poised to have a stable and steady run of games during the World Cup run. Drafting Emily Boyd in 2018, making a trade for Katie Johnson this offseason, drafting Maria Sanchez this year, and watching Michele Vasconcelos come into form after her pregnancy - are all pieces that may come into play during this stretch of matches.
You can read our responses over at Hot Time In Old Town, to be published on Friday.