Week 5 of the 2019 National Women's Soccer League end with the Houston Dash hosting the Chicago Red Stars in a battle that will determine whether Houston can stay at the top of the league for the second week in a row. Houston won 2-1 on the back of forward Rachel Daly last weekend, but she got a red card for elbowing an opponent in the face at the very end of the match. Daly had been the spark of life for Houston this season, and it will be interesting to see who steps up an takes her place pioneering the offense.
The Red Stars became the first team to beat the North Carolina Courage in 330 days last weekend, and they did so convincingly. Forward Sam Kerr is the best striker in the league, and she has one more opportunity to score goals in the NWSL before joining camp with Australia. She and the rest of the team carefully carved up the undermanned Courage last weekend. This weekend will probably be a tougher challenge, but without Daly they might be less dangerous.
Breaking down the matchup
For Houston, the most important aspect of this game will be containing Kerr. The defensive line will need to play perfectly disciplined if they want to keep the quick-passing Chicago attack under wraps. This plan will be complicated by the absence of both starting fullbacks; Allysha Chapman and Lindsay Agnew. Last weekend Ari Romero and Satara Murray filled in admirably, but the Utah Royals FC offense is not as powerful as Chicago's, and when Murray started against the Courage three weeks ago she was responsible for four goals. It will be important for the midfield to shield Murray from direct attacks from Chicago.
Kealia Ohai and Sofia Huerta will be relied upon to craft the offensive response for Houston. They are both former United States Women's National Team call ups, and they should be capable of putting pressure on the Chicago defense. It will be down to Casey Short and Katie Naughton to lock things down on a defensive line that is missing a few players for national team duty. Fortunately for Chicago, the replacements, Arin Wright and Sarah Gorden are experienced replacements, and they should be up to the task.
The biggest force for Chicago will be in the midfield. There are no weak links, and it wouldn't be a stretch to say that they have the most accomplished and talented midfield in the league at this point in the season. While Julie Ertz is gone, the rest of the team is still intact, and that type of cohesion is hard to find in the league right now. Attacking midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo has been excellent coming back from a hip injury that plagued her all last season, and Michele Vasconcelos has been simply phenomenal. Chicago's only loss this season took place when they had a weak early red card shown, and they almost gutted out a draw despite playing with just 10 women for the entire second half. These are two good teams.
How to watch
The game will kick off at 6:00 p.m. ET on Sunday at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, Texas. It can be watched on Yahoo! Sports in the United States and on the nwslsoccer.com website internationally.