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Three takeaways from the Challenge Cup

The Red Stars will take a few days off before returning to training ahead of the regular season.

OL Reign goalkeeper Karen Bardsley goes up to punch a ball away from the goal during a Challenge Cup match against the Red Stars in Tacoma, Wash.
AP

The Red Stars already have fallen short of their lofty goal of winning every trophy available this year, finishing third in the National Women’s Soccer League’s Challenge Cup tournament.

The Women’s Cup, the NWSL Shield and the NWSL championship are still on the table, but the Red Stars have a lot of work to do before the regular season starts May 16.

Here are three takeaways from the Challenge Cup:

Attack needs work

The Red Stars scored their first goal of the tournament three games in, when Katie Johnson tallied in the 81st minute of their match against Kansas City. They followed that performance with two goals in the tournament finale against OL Reign.

Coach Rory Dames never has expressed concern about the Red Stars’ ability to score. Instead, he has said the goals will come as the team develops more continuity, and he was right. Still, it wasn’t enough to earn the Red Stars more than a third-place finish.

Making sure players understand their roles has been a key point of emphasis for Dames and will continue to be in the time leading up to the regular season. The lack of familiarity on the front line played a role in the Red Stars’ inability to score early on in the tournament. Of the Red Stars’ seven forwards, five have been with the team a year or less. Establishing expectations for each player and instilling in them the principles the Red Stars play with will be important, Dames has said.

Getting everyone healthy

The Red Stars haven’t had a fully healthy roster through preseason training and the Challenge Cup. Defender Bianca St. Georges has been out rehabbing a torn meniscus in her knee, and backup goalkeeper Emily Boyd, who also was rehabbing a knee injury, finally was cleared to participate in training April 23. In addition, forwards Rachel Hill and Mallory Pugh played limited minutes in the tournament as they worked back up to full fitness after injuries suffered during the preseason.

Dames stressed the importance of these next two weeks being a time for his team to get some needed rest. He said the Red Stars would have a few days off after the Challenge Cup before returning to training in preparation for the season opener May 16 against the Portland Thorns.

Before the Challenge Cup, St. Georges said she expected to be ready to go in time for the regular season. It’s unclear whether she will be available against the Thorns, but Dames has said she’s on track. The Red Stars proved the importance of depth during the tournament, but having a fully healthy roster will be vital in continuing to develop cohesiveness.

Looking ahead

The Red Stars have nearly 20 days before they return to action, and that rest will be important because their schedule doesn’t start slowly. Their season opener against the Thorns will be one of the biggest games on the schedule. Through the Challenge Cup, the Thorns have proved they are the team to beat this year — with or without their national-team players.

The Red Stars’ schedule will continue with their home opener May 22 against Gotham FC, who are a different team than their previous incarnation as Sky Blue. The acquisition of midfielder Allie Long added to an already-talented roster that features Midge Purce and Carli Lloyd.

The Red Stars finish their May schedule on the road against Kansas City on May 26 and the Houston Dash on May 29.