Chicago Looks to Catch Fire Heading into the Playoffs

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The Chicago Red Stars clinched their playoff spot for 2016 during a draw against FC Kansas City in Week 19 of NWSL action. Here is what to look for as Chicago heads into the playoffs.

2016 OPENING ROSTER

Goalkeeper (2): Michele Dalton, Alyssa Naeher
Defenders (6): Arin Gilliland, Sarah Gorden, Samantha Johnson, Katie Naughton, Casey Short, Julie Johnston
Midfielders (7): Danielle Colaprico, Taylor Comeau, Amanda Da Costa, Vanessa DiBernardo, Mary Luba, Alyssa Mautz, Courtney Raetzman
Forwards (4): Jen Hoy, Sofia Huerta, Christen Press, Cara Walls

MID-SEASON ADDITIONS

Forwards: Stephanie McCaffrey

SEMI-FINAL MATCH UP

Chicago Red Stars VS ?

Heading into the final week of the regular season, there are still different potential semi-final match ups. The only absolutes are that Washington Spirit, and Portland Thorns FC, will each be the hosts of a semi-final. Chicago will face Washington in their final home game of the season. It will be a game that will be a bit of a playoff preview for each team, both literally and figuratively. Semi-final opponents will be determined by the outcomes in the final week of the regular season.

IMPACT PLAYERS

Chicago has been a team that has that has been able to rely on big games from two big time players in Goal Keeper Alyssa Naeher and Forward Christen Press.

Naeher has been a constant for team’s backline, helping to organize them and be one of the better defenses in the league. She has had several key saves in games, save of the week honors, and player of the month honors for the month of May.

The team’s captain, Press, has at times been their only goal scorer. As the season progressed she has been able to keep opposition on their toes by demanding their attention. Lethal up top, she has been playing lower this season. It has allowed the offense to grow, slowly, but surely.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

During the season to offset the team’s lack of production, Chicago went out and made a trade with the Boston Breakers to bring Stephanie McCaffrey to the team. McCaffrey immediately made in impact for the team, making her presence felt by scoring 2 goals in her first three appearances for the squad.

Casey Short has been an excellent addition for Head Coach Rory Dames and his system. Short was signed in the off season after several years of being linked to the Red Stars. 2016 saw her arrival, and she has had a great chemistry with Arin Gilliland as her fellow outside back. Short is the only defender to have scored any goals this year, having netted 2 this season.

PLAYOFF EXPERIENCE

Chicago will be making their second playoff appearance since the club’s history in NWSL. Last year the Red Stars hosted a semi-final, but lost 3-0 to eventual NWSL Champions FC Kansas City. Chicago went down early in the match, and struggled to get back into the game despite having a better second half. However, Kansas City’s experience was on full display, and the season was over.

Much of last year’s squad has remained a part of the team this season, and many will want to use their experiences to fuel them to the final. Their last home game against the Washington Spirit should provide Chicago a good platform as they head into the playoffs.

KEYS TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP

It has yet to be determined who Chicago will be playing in the semi-final. However one thing has proven true for this season, Chicago has played best when their national team players (Naeher, Johnson, Press) have been able to perform at a high level.

Forwards, Sofia Huerta, and the late arrival of Stephanie McCaffrey, have been able to offset what others have assumed was a one-goal scorer team. Their games against Sky Blue FC and Seattle Reign FC have provided the chemistry of playing a complete game as a complete team. If late injuries (McCaffrey, Naeher) aren’t too much of a hindrance, the Red Stars are a team that can be up to the challenge of either Washington or Portland.