Match Forecast: Tough task awaits Reign FC in first road game of 2015

It’s an eye-popping stat line after week one of the 2015 National Women’s Soccer League season.

While the fact that forward Megan Rapinoe leads the NWSL in goals with three — after a season-opening hat-trick against the Western New York Flash on Sunday — is impressive in and of itself, that number also has her ahead of six of the league’s seven teams through one game.

That performance also caught the eye of national media, netting her NWSL Player of the Week honors.

In addition to the creativity that the U.S. Women’s National Team star provided, Reign FC’s offensive attack put a total of 12 shots on goal, and Welsh international Jess Fishlock and forward Beverly Yanez each tallied goals of their own.

But while a 5–1 victory over the Flash to start the season was a solid beginning, head coach Laura Harvey said Saturday’s road tilt with the Chicago Red Stars provides a whole new set of challenges.

“[It’s] a good starting block to build on,” Harvey said. “But I think Chicago is going to be a whole different game.”

As the lone team not in action last weekend, the 5 p.m. PT matchup at the Village of Lisle-Benedictine University Sports Complex in Chicago will be the Red Stars’ season opener, adding fuel to what Harvey already feels is a difficult atmosphere.

“Chicago’s a really tough place,” Harvey said. “We find it very difficult to go there.”

Last season, Chicago wasn’t just a tough locale for Seattle — where they where they picked up one of just two regular season losses — but for the entire league. The Red Stars lost just twice in 12 home matches last season, both coming at the hands of the Washington Spirit.

After just missing out on a playoff bid last year, by virtue of a head-to-head tiebreaker with Washington, the Red Stars return most of their 2014 roster.

Chicago boasts four U.S. WNT players — all returnees — in defenders Lori Chalupny and Julie Johnston, midfielder Shannon Boxx, and forward Christen Press.

While the team didn’t make any major offseason trades or free agent additions, two first round draft picks joined the Red Stars: Kentucky defender Arin Gilliland and Virginia midfielder Danielle Colaprico, along with second-round selection Santa Clara forward Sofia Huerta.

Last season Reign FC went 1–1–1 against the Red Stars, notching a win and a tie in a pair of games at home, while dropping the road matchup.

Scottish international Kim Little had two goals and Solo made four saves in a 3–1 win on June 7, while Seattle was held off the scoreboard in a 1–0 defeat in Chicago on July 12. In the latter, the Reign outshot Chicago 8–6, but an eighth minute goal from forward Melissa Tancredi proved to be the difference. Yanez had Reign FC’s only goal in a 1–1 draw eight days later in Seattle.

Overall, the Red Stars are a physical team that does well to use constant pressure to try and break up Reign FC’s meticulous possession-based strategy. Chicago ended Reign FC’s 16-game unbeaten streak in 2014, and that loss will add additional fuel for Harvey’s side come kick-off.

For details on single match tickets, visit ReignFC.com.

By Joe Veyera