Challenge Cup Preview: Chicago Red Stars
Chicago's biggest task will be replacing leading goalscorer Sam Kerr, who left in the offseason
Yuki Nagasato will need to once again be a key creative force for Chicago (Photo credit: Matthew Levine/NWSL)
Yuki Nagasato will need to once again be a key creative force for Chicago (Photo credit: Matthew Levine/NWSL)

Team Name: Chicago Red Stars

Head Coach: Rory Dames

Last Year’s Finish: 14-2-8, 2nd overall (lost in NWSL Championship to NC Courage)

Last year was a banner year for the Red Stars, who rode Sam Kerr’s MVP season to a franchise record forty-four points and a second place regular-season finish. Rory Dames’ side additionally got over their semifinal curse, edging Portland Thorns FC at home to reach their first ever NWSL Championship and first league final since 2012. The Red Stars would ultimately fall to the North Carolina Courage, 4-0, in Cary, as the Courage won their second straight league title.

Key Players In: Kealia Watt, Rachel Hill, Makenzy Doniak, Julia Bingham

Key Players Out: Sam Kerr, Katie Naughton, Nikki Stanton, Maria Sanchez

Player to Watch: Kealia Watt (FWD)

While there’s no replacing Kerr’s impact with one player, Kealia Watt headlines a trio of new acquisitions that look to power the Red Stars going forward this summer. Watt has publicly stated that she wants to return to her 2016 run of form that saw her tied in the league lead for goals with Lynn Williams. Dames has spoken highly of her form in training thus far this year, so expect Watt to fly down the left wing and terrorize a few defenses in Utah this summer.

Challenge Cup Outlook: While Chicago will miss Sam Kerr’s record breaking form in Utah, Chicago returns many of the players that helped them reach that elusive first NWSL Championship game a season ago. Fans know what to expect from the likes of Yuki Nagasato, Julie Ertz, Morgan Brian, and Casey Short and the true challenge for the Courage’s throne centers around new acquisitions and younger talent stepping up to the plate. If Savannah McCaskill and Michele Vasconcelos can provide meaningful creativity and find the back of the net for the Red Stars throughout this tournament, you may see Dames’ side once again pushing for a place in the final.

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