The 2016 NWSL season kicks off on Saturday and it will have a big time matchup between the Chicago Red Stars and the Houston Dash.
Red Stars to play Dash
Both teams finished in the top five in the NWSL table with Chicago placing second with 33 points and Houston finishing fifth with 24 points. The Dash missed out on the playoffs while the Red Stars were beaten by eventual champions FC Kansas City in the semi-finals. The last time these two teams met it was a 1-1 draw at Toyota Park on the final day of the regular season.
Houston will be looking to kickstart a rebound year after missing out on the playoffs last year. With players like Morgan Brian and Carli Lloyd in the middle of the park, Houston probably has the best midfield duo in the NWSL. Brian is a good box to box midfielder and can help in link up play and Lloyd is one of the best attacking midfielders in the world.
They are a good duo who compliment each other on the field. Houston is also filled with international players whose experience playing in their home countries will help this season. The Dash currently five international players with two in attack and two back on defense. This may be Houston's deepest squad and anyone can grab a starting spot on opening week. It's something that head coach Randy Waldrum is aware of.
“It’s getting tough. It’s probably tougher right now than it was in the first two years. It’s a sign of the growth of our team and the depth compared to those two years,” said Waldrum (quotes acquired via HoustonDynamo.com).
Chicago looking to improve
After achieving their best finish in NWSL history, Chicago will be looking to improve on that in 2016.
The Red Stars will be centered around a trio of national team players as the core of their team. Christen Press, Julie Johnston, and Alyssa Naeher are the "Big 3" for Chicago and will be the key players heading into this matchup. All three have played in the USWNT's friendlies so far this spring and will look to be fresh heading into the start of the season.
Johnston and Press have certainly been outstanding as both have found the back of the net for their national teams. Especially Johnston who is showing that she can be a real threat coming off set pieces. She will have a lot to handle as she faces the likes of Lloyd and it will be a tough test for a Chicago defense that only gave up 22 goals last season, 3rd fewest in the league.
The key matchup will be in the midfield as a new look Chicago midfield, one without Lori Chalupny, will take on the duo of Brian and Lloyd. The Red Stars are young in that part of the pitch but they certainly have the talent to match any team in the league.