The Chicago Red Stars begin their season tonight as they embark on their journey to collect silverware in this year's NWSL Challenge Cup.
The Red Stars will begin the group stage against the Houston Dash, last year's cup winners, at BBVA Stadium in Houston. The Red Stars will be looking to avenge their 2020 Challenge Cup Final loss to the Dash.
It will be imperative for both teams get off to a good start this season, as the West Division is highly competitive. In fact, FiveThirtyEight gives four of the five teams (Red Stars, Dash, Reign, Thorns) a 21%-23% chance of winning the group.
Both teams will be missing key players. The Red Stars will be missing starting goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher and defender Julie Ertz to international duty, both US Women's Team mainstays. Mallory Pugh – also a mainstay in the women's national team – will not make her Red Stars debut due to a knee injury.
What is the Challenge Cup?
For those new to the game of soccer, specifically the women's game, the Challenge Cup's inaugural season was last year and was originally meant to be a one-off tournament to mark the return of the NWSL after COVID-19 postponed league action.
After how successful the tournament was, the NWSL has decided to continue playing the tournament as a lead up to the regular season.
What is This Year's Cup Format?
The format for this year's edition of the tournament is very similar to last year's, as the preliminary round will still follow a round-robin format. However, each team will only play four matches in the preliminary round, down from eight last year. The reason last year's tournament saw more round-robin games was to effectively replace the regular season due to the COVID-19 shutdown.
Each division is made up of five teams, so each team will play four preliminary round games. The winner of each division will advance to the final.
Who Else Will the Red Stars Be Playing?
The Red Stars will be playing every team in the West Division. After last year's champion Houston Dash, the Red Stars will take on the Portland Thorns on April 15, Kansas City on April 20, and OL Reign on April 27. All games will be broadcast on Paramount+.
You can catch all Chicago Fire, Red Star, and US National team action moving forward at On Tap Sports Net.