2013 NWSL team preview: Chicago Red Stars

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Over the next two days, ProSoccerTalk will be providing quick capsules of the eight teams participating in the new National Women’s Soccer League. Next up is another return entrant from Women’s Professional Soccer, the Chicago Red Stars.

Joining Sky Blue, Boston, and Western New York, the Red Stars are one of four NWSL clubs that participated in WPS, even if Chicago elected to pass on the league’s final season in 2011. Since then the club has been playing the Women’s Premier Soccer League, losing in the 2011 final before duplicating the feat in 2012’s WPSL Elite.

Such was the world of semi-pro soccer that a professional-caliber organization could drop down and come within two hairs of winning consecutive titles. Now back at their level, the Red Stars will find things more difficult. In the crapshoot that was NWSL allocation, Chicago ended up with the short end of the stick, and after taking a draft pick in exchange Keelin Winters — a talented midfielder who played at a position of depth — the Red Stars are left with a solid but older team, one that has questions everywhere but goal.

In a league of new teams that have only had four weeks to prepare for the season, that’s a description that could be applied to most NWSL clubs. That means if everything clicks, Chicago will make the playoffs, outperforming teams who can’t find solutions. And if they don’t, the Red Stars will finish in the league’s lower half.

Who you know: While FC Kansas City (previewed earlier) may lack superstars, Chicago lacks stars of any variety. Their biggest name is Shannon Boxx (pictured), a regular in central midfield for the U.S. national team but somebody whose been away from the team throughout preseason. It’s unclear how she’ll perform in a midfield with former Boston Breaker Leslie Osborne, someone who can play a very similar role.

The defense has question marks without Amy LePeilbet, the two-time WPS Defender of the Year who is out for the season. Erin McLoud, one of the best shot-stoppers in the league, may have to be Chicago’s best player for the team to have a chance at the playoffs.

Lori Chalupny is another name, the former U.S. international returning to Chicago after helping them to the 2012 WPSLE final. The 29-year-old could be one of the league’s better all-around midfielders, providing the type of leadership that can help a new group of come together quickly.

Who you should know: The Red Stars surprised some when they made Zakiya Bywaters the first pick in the College Draft, though shortly after her selection, Notre Dame coach Randy Waldrum expressed his support. If he had the first pick in the draft, Waldrum said, he would have taken Bywaters, an attacker who Waldrum has coached while running the U-23 national team.

Bywaters is one of a number of potential goal scorers for the Red Stars – a slew of players who’ll be counted on to address Chicago’s biggest weakness. Mexican legend Maribel Dominguez and Ella Masar, returning to Chicago after a stint at Paris Saint-Germain, will also need to compensate for the lack of an elite goal scorer.

What it means: Though Chicago are without LePeilbet, the defense looks decent, and with a midfield that has talent that can defy its redundancies, the big question is scoring. Can the Red Stars find enough goals to get the three point-results that separate the postseason from the also-rans?

Chicago opens the NWSL season on Sunday against visiting Seattle.

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MLS Snapshot: Orlando City SC 2-1 Montreal Impact

Cyle Larin, Orlando City SC

The game in 100 words (or less): For weeks, it was a widely held belief that the Montreal Impact would snatch up the sixth and final playoff place in the Eastern Conference with little or no resistance from their opposition. As they went six games unbeaten (four wins), all looked to be setting up perfect for the club that fired Frank Klopas midseason, but there was another team in the race for sixth that kept winning themselves: Orlando City SC. On Saturday night, Montreal and Orlando City faced off at the Citrus, with the expansion Lions claiming their fourth-straight victory with a 2-1 triumph. Montreal now holds a one-point lead on Orlando in the race for sixth, and have two games in hand, but it’s no longer a foregone conclusion L’Impact will qualify for the playoffs no resistance whatsoever.

[ MORE: | Week 30 TOTW | POTW ]

Three moments that mattered

33′ — Bush’s mistake gifts Larin the opening goal — Larin did what your taught to do as a striker — “put it on frame, test the goalkeeper” — but in no universe does a shot so feeble have any business finding the back of the net. Evan Bush has been great this year. Hopefully (for Montreal’s sake), this howler doesn’t turn into the yips with the playoffs looming.

43′ — Hall’s “mistake” gifts Oduro an equalizer — Dominic Oduro equalized in the 43rd minute, when he took the ball out of the hands of Tally Hall and smashed it into the back of the net, but the goal should have been disallowed due to Hall having full control of the ball.

80′ — Hines hits the winner for Orlando — Seb Hines put the ball back into the mixer and just so happened to find the back of the net in the 80th minute. Sometimes that’s all it takes.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Seb Hines

Goalscorers: Larin (33′), Oduro (43′), Hines (80′)

MLS Snapshot: NY Red Bulls 2-1 Columbus Crew SC

Bradley Wright-Phillips, New York Red Bulls
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The game in 100 words (or less): Two weeks in a row Columbus Crew SC have had a chance to go top of the Eastern Conference with a victory, and two weeks in a row Crew SC have failed to take a single point from massively important fixtures. Their latest defeat, a 2-1 humbling at the hands of the East-leading New York Red Bulls, started so well for Gregg Berhalter’s side, but was undone by a pair of costly, comedic defensive errors that allowed Lloyd Sam and Bradley Wright-Phillips (15th of the season) to erase an early deficit (Justin Meram) and win all three points. The result not only keeps the Red Bulls top of the East, but gives them a three- and four-point cushion with three and two games in hand on their nearest competitors., D.C. United and New England Revoltion respectively. For Crew SC, they’re four points back of the Red Bulls in fourth place, one point ahead of fifth-place Toronto FC, who have a game in hand.

[ MORE: | Week 30 TOTW | POTW ]

Three moments that mattered

9′ — Meram pokes it past Robles for an early lead — Meram “earned” his goal all the way back in midfield, when the Iraqi international’s mazy run took a routine turnover inside Crew SC’s defensive half and turned it into a dangerous counter-attacking opportunity. Harrison Afful overlapped and provided the cross for Meram to send home.

12′ — Sam capitalizes on multiple mistakes to equalize — Crew SC pass the ball out of the back. They don’t boot it forward to clear. It’s just what they do. Sometimes, that’ll bite you. When your goalkeeper and right back both have blunders clearing the ball 10 seconds apart, you probably deserve to concede an ugly, scrappy goal.

21′ — Wright-Phillips capitalizes on more defensive gaffes — See the above description for Red Bulls goal no. 1.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Damien Perrinelle

Goalscorers: Meram (9′), Sam (12′), Wright-Phillips (21′)