Utah Royals FC vs Chicago Red Stars preview: Fighting for the top of the table
Two top teams looking for first place.

On Friday night at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, UT the Chicago Red Stars and Utah Royals FC will officially kick off the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup phase of the National Women's Soccer League regular season. Players called up for the United States Women's National Team will not be available for their clubs for the next nine weeks (approximately), so a whole new crop of players will have a chance to shine.

Utah Royals FC is the only team left in the league without a draw or loss, and they are currently in second place with six points and a game in hand. Friday night will be their biggest test of the season so far as they travel to Chicago. The Chicago Red Stars finally got their first win of the season on Sunday and are still undefeated on the season. This matchup between undefeated teams will give a glimpse of how teams plan to play without their best players.

The Red Stars have depth on their side

The Chicago Red Stars are probably the deepest team in the league. While they will be missing goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, defender Tierna Davidson, midfielder Julie Ertz, and midfielder Morgan Brian this weekend, Chicago has some solid replacement players. Midfielders Vanessa DiBernardo and Alyssa Mautz are both quality starters who should fill in admirably. The defense will have to be shuffled, but Brooke Elby, who scored her first career goal last weekend, is a quality replacement player. The biggest question mark will be in goal where Emily Boyd will be making her third career start. She lacks experience, but she has been with the team for over a year and will have a chance to prove her worth this weekend.

Yuki Nagasato has been on fire for the Red Stars lately. | Photo: isiphotos.com via @ChiRedStarsPR
Yuki Nagasato has been on fire for the Red Stars lately. | Photo: isiphotos.com via @ChiRedStarsPR

On offense, Chicago is just as dangerous as they've been all season. The combination of Sam Kerr and Yuki Nagasato has been devastating, and against weakened opposition these two players should thrive. Kerr will eventually fly off to France with the Australian women's national team, but until then she will be feasting on depleted defenses. The visitors will try to use their superior offensive talent to hand Utah their first defeat of the season.

How will Utah cope?

Between injuries and national team duty, there aren't a whole lot of players available for Utah. Becky Sauerbrunn will be gone, Sydney Miramontez is out with a foot injury, Rebecca Moros has a knee injury, and Kelley O'Hara is with the USWNT. That's a whole starting backline out for this match. Fortunately for Utah, they have three good defenders left available for action in Rachel Corsie, Katie Bowen, and newcomer Michelle Maemone. Samantha Johnson will probably fill the lone missing spot for Utah.

On the other side of the ball, forward Christen Press will also be gone for USWNT camp. Press had an excellent first two games of the season, but now it will be up to Katie Stengel to take her place and try to replicate the production. For now, the biggest issue for Utah is the lack of defensive depth, and they will need to be careful about not letting Kerr get in behind them. Utah will need to really control the midfield and stop the Chicago attack before it can get going. 

How to watch

The game will kick off at 9:30 p.m. ET in Sandy, Utah. The match can be streamed live on Yahoo! Sports in the United States and on the NWSLsoccer.com website internationally.