NWSL analysis: The Chicago Red Stars need more, North Carolina Courage keep scoring

Quick Hits
  • As the NWSL playoffs near, some teams have their work cut out for them and will need to get back to their winning ways if they want to see the postseason
  • After a strong start to the season, the Chicago Red Stars are one of those teams
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The NWSL schedule was lighter than usual over the weekend with the 2022 Women’s International Champions Cup happening in Portland and the 2022 Women’s Cup wrapping up in Louisville. The Portland Thorns, Racing Louisville, and OL Reign competed in those tournaments, and Washington Spirit had a bye week. That left just four NWSL games on the weekend slate. 

As the NWSL playoffs near, each of these games have some real stakes. Some teams have their work cut out for them and will need to get back to their winning ways if they want to see the postseason.

The Chicago Red Stars are one of those teams.

Chicago needs more

The Red Stars opened their season with only one loss in their first 11 games. That loss came in their second game, which means Chicago went on a nine-game unbeaten run that brought them through the first half of July. During that streak, the Red Stars scored 19 goals, with Mallory Pugh netting six of them. 

In their last five games, though, the Red Stars have lost four times. They’ve scored just three goals and have been shut out in three of those matches. 

That was the case in this weekend’s match against North Carolina. 

The Red Stars’ lackluster attack was made to look even worse after the team conceded four goals. That’s the second time Chicago have allowed four goals in this five-game stretch. Though Chicago’s attack, mostly led by Pugh, was firing to start the season, their recent form is more reminiscent of the 2021 season. Last year, the goals leader for the Red Stars was their opponents’ own-goals (6)

As a general rule, if a team wants to win games, they’re better off trying to score goals themselves. Crazy stuff, I know. On the brink of the playoff line with 23 points, it’s time for Pugh and company to turn on the attack.

North Carolina trending upwards?

A 4-0 loss in the Red Stars’ record might seem surprising, but with the way the Courage’s season has been going, a dominant North Carolina Courage victory definitely takes the cake on the Surprise-O-Meter. With their third win of the season and first at home, the Courage have finally pulled themselves out of 12th place and sit above the Washington Spirit and NJ/NY Gotham FC in the standings.

One impressive result doesn’t mean they’re on their way to the playoffs, but the consistency North Carolina have shown in the final third is impressive. Excluding own-goals, the Courage have now scored the second-most goals in the league (27), only behind the Portland Thorns (34). 

Rookie Diana Ordóñez has been a crucial part of the Courage attack. She’s found the back of the net in the last five games, which is the longest scoring streak in North Carolina history. Ordóñez’ two-goal performance against Chicago brought her season total to 10, only two goals behind San Diego’s Alex Morgan, who has been leading the Golden Boot race all season.

Perhaps the best thing about North Carolina’s attack this season, though, is that so many different players have found the back of the net. The Courage have had 13 unique goal-scorers this season (including Taylor Smith, who was traded to Gotham). Two players even scored their first-ever goals for the club at Chicago’s expense (Rylee Baisden and Fuka).

Given their 3W-4D-6L record, and that the Courage have a knack for scoring goals this season, it’s clear that the team’s real struggles are coming in their defensive third.

North Carolina are conceding two goals per game on average, which is the worst in the league. If they want to continue their climb up the table and make a crack at one of the six playoff spots, the Courage defense will need to step up.

After securing their second shut-out of the season against Chicago, the Courage could be moving in the right direction.

Altogether, North Carolina’s lights-out attacking efforts won’t be enough to pull them into the postseason. But if they start turning their games in hand into wins, there won’t be any stopping the Courage.

Data courtesy of American Soccer Analysis.