Thorns FC Opponent Dossier: Chicago Red Stars

Thorns return to Chicago for second showdown with Red Stars

Aiming to extend their unbeaten run in the NWSL to five games, the Portland Thorns take on Chicago Red Stars on Sunday (3pm PT, webstream on www.portlandthornsfc.com). Find out everything you need to know about the opposition.

What happened when the teams last met?
Second-half goals from Danielle Foxhoven and Christine Sinclair led the Thorns to their second victory of the season in what was a dominant display by Cindy Parlow Cone’s team. The Thorns were comfortably in control for long periods, but didn't breakthrough until late – the first goal didn’t arrive until the 70th minute.

Chicago’s goalkeeper Erin McLeod was a stand-out performer with seven saves registered as the Thorns directed 13 shots overall at her goal. Apart from Lori Chalupny, Chicago struggled to create many scoring opportunities and spent a lot of the game on the back foot trying to deal with the Thorns’ attacking play.

How have they fared so far?
Yet to celebrate a victory after four games played, Chicago has work to do in order to get off the mark. They secured a credible 1-1 tie in their season opener at home to Seattle Reign before then hosting the Thorns and slipping to a 2-0 loss in front of 2,855 supporters.

Chicago then went on the road for back-to-back games, firstly against Boston Breakers, where they suffered their heaviest defeat in a 4-1 reserve. But they followed that up with a 1-1 tie away to Sky Blue FC, which showed some signs of improvement from their previous outings.

KEY PERSONNEL

Head coach: Rory Dames
With time spent at St. Louis University and serving as director of coaching for the Eclipse Select Soccer Club, Dames knows all about soccer at various levels. Due to his Chicago roots, he possesses a strong knowledge of the local scene and its best players. So he was a natural fit to take charge of the Red Stars, who he previously coached in the WPSL and WPSL Elite.

Star Player: Erin McLeod
Battling it out with Thorns stopper Karina LeBlanc for the No. 1 spot in the Canada national team, this 30-year-old is playing some of the best soccer of her career. Assured with her kicking, confident with her handling, and athletic in getting across her goal, McLeod is someone who has kept Chicago in games already this season.

One To Watch: Jessica McDonald
Lightning quick and deadly in front of goal, this exciting forward is someone who can punish teams if afforded enough space. While there are still areas that she needs to improve on – such as her hold-up play and short passing – this Arizona native is a great weapon to use off the bench and is bound to develop into a key starter over the coming months.

TACTICAL VIEW

What can the Thorns expect?
There is a lot of things to admire about Chicago, or at least about what they are trying to do. Coach Dames has focused heavily on team shape and ensuring that his players support each other all over the pitch. This means that they can be very compact at times, squeezing the midfield and holding a tight defensive line.

When they break forward, the likes of Maribel DominguezElla Masar, Chalupny and Lauren Fowlkes are powerful threats. But their biggest problem is providing a steady stream of service into those forward players. With their midfield still trying to find its feet, Chicago doesn’t build as many attacks as they possibly should. And that is something that the Thorns will be trying to keep bottled up.  

Who are their main threats?
Dominguez is a player with a lot of talent, although it was curious to see that she was an unused substitute in their last game against Sky Blue FC. The strike pairing for that game was Masar and Fowlkes – two capable players, but they have yet to strike any sort of chemistry. Jessica McDonald was then introduced and she added some much needed pace.

At the back, Chicago can rely on quality personnel, like Carmelina Moscato and Taryn Hemmings, but as a unit they are still gelling. As the season goes on, they will get even better and Rachel Quon is someone who can get forward from outside back. And in midfield, the likes of Jackie Santaceterina and Chalupny play big roles in turning defensive situations into attacking ones.

Where are they most vulnerable?
The most obvious area where Chicago has been struggling is in defense with eight goals conceded from four games, which is the highest in the league. And it could be a lot worse if not for the shot-saving heroics of McLeod. They are allowing far too many shots on their goal with their defensive line sinking too far back.

For a team who like to push forward at every opportunity, the Thorns should be able to profit from Chicago’s defensive uncertainty. However, that all depends on whether they can win the battle in midfield first. 

A brief history…
Originally founded in 2007, the first Chicago Red Stars team competed in the Women’s Professional Soccer league (WPS) and played their home games at Toyota Park, where the men’s MLS team, Chicago Fire, play. Then they played in the Women’s Premier Soccer League before joining the WPSL Elite League.

Through the years, Chicago has had some world-class talent on their roster, like Brazilian star Cristiane, England’s Karen Carney, Sweden’s Frida Ostberg, and Australia’s Lydia Williams. They were keen to hold onto the club’s name and tradition, which is why owner Arnim Whisler has remained involved.

Where do they play their home games?
Home for Chicago is the multi-purpose Village of Lisle-Benedictine University Sports Complex, which was opened in 2005 and can hold up to 3,000 supporters. Based in the Illinois suburb of Lisle, the stadium is quite modern and has a running track circling the pitch.

The good news for the Thorns is that the pitch itself is artificial surface, similar to what they are familiar with at JELD-WEN Field. It is a pitch that allows the ball to roll quite quickly, which will suit any visiting team with intentions of playing a passing game as the Thorns discovered when they beat Chicago there in April.

What players have they recruited?
The name that jumps off their roster sheet at first glance is United States midfielder Shannon Boxx, who was allocated to the team along with Amy LePeilbet and Keelin Winters, Mexican pair Dinora Garza and Maribel Dominguez, and Canadian duo Erin McLeod and Carmelina Moscato. However, Boxx is currently injured and is not expected to feature in this game.

Chicago made some good moves in picking up Taryn Hemmings and Jessica McDonald as free agents, while they selected Zakiya Bywaters and Rachel Quon in the NWSL Draft. They also had six players returning from the previous Red Stars team, including Lauren Fowlkes, Lori Chalupny and Ella Masar.

Did You Know?
Chicago midfielder Shannon Boxx is the 10th most capped player for the United States women’s national team with 186 appearances since making her debut in 2003.

Gareth Maher is a contributing writer to PortlandTimbers.com. He is a frequent writer about soccer for the Irish Daily Mail in Dublin as well as ESPNFC.com.