Although many preseason matches have already been played by teams across the league, you would argue that the most interesting are yet to come - as of today no two NWSL sides have faced each other. This is set to change on Sunday, when the Portland Thorns host the Chicago Red Stars in the opening round of fixtures at the Portland Invitational.
Setting the standards
Chicago head coach Rory Dames already knows the importance of this high-level competition in preseason, as he lamented their exclusion from the Invitational Cup when they lost their opening fixture last season, 3-1 to the Houston Dash - a team who had already played against two NWSL teams at the Thorns’ tournament.
The Red Stars are a team who have been there or thereabouts in the past three seasons, but are in need of some kind of marginal gain in order to truly dominate the league. A win at this tournament, and an ensuing strong start to league play, could potentially be enough to tip them over the edge.
Finalising the roster
Despite inviting 30 players into camp, Chicago have already offered 19 returning players contracts, leaving just one spot up for grabs. Even though this Red Stars team could easily play a full strength team in each match, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Dames giving significant minutes to the likes of Lauren Kaskie, Simone Kolander, Morgan Proffitt, and Brittany Ratcliffe, all players who are leading the race to be player number 20.
Players to watch
As mentioned above, there will be a lot of familiar faces on show for Chicago during this tournament.
Vanessa DiBernardo, who has consistently been overlooked since being drafted alongside now-USWNT star Julie Johnston back in 2014, is set to continue her ascendancy after being promoted to vice-captain and starting every game in the 2016 season. With the tough-tackling Danielle Colaprico sitting behind her, DiBernardo is free to help create chances and play the final ball; she was second in the league for assists last year. She is a player that is entertaining to watch, and one who is key to this Chicago Red Stars side.
Another Red Star that surely many will be looking out for is Casey Short. After returning from overseas at the start of last season, she flew under many outsiders’ radars but was instantly a hit in her home city of Chicago. Her intelligent defending at outside back coupled with the ability to score vital goals led her to becoming a certain name on the USWNT rosters of the last six months. After her seamless progression to the national team, all eyes will certainly be on her to see if she can maintain her excellent form.
GOALKEEPERS (2): Michele Dalton, Alyssa Naeher
DEFENDERS (7): Arin Gilliland, Sarah Gorden, Samantha Johnson, Julie Johnston, Katie Naughton, Emily Richardson, Casey Short
MIDFIELDERS (13): Jackie Altschuld, Danielle Colaprico, Taylor Comeau, Vanessa DiBernardo, Ashley Gogolin, Lauren Kaskie, Kourtney Kutscher, Morgan Proffitt, Courtney Raetzman, Sofia Huerta, Alyssa Mautz, Mary Luba, Brittany Ratcliffe
FORWARDS (8): Ashleigh Ellenwood, Janelle Flaws, Summer Green, Jennifer Hoy, Simone Kolander, Stephanie McCaffrey, Christen Press, Cara Walls