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Red Stars look to set the tone for 2021 NWSL season with a win on the road against Thorns

On the road against the Portland Thorns on Sunday, the Red Stars begin their pursuit of the NWSL Shield and a league title.

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At the start of 2021 NWSL play, which kicked off with the Challenge Cup tournament, the Red Stars said they had the goal to bring home every trophy available this season.

They already fell short, but there are still three titles up for grabs.

Sunday, on the road against the Portland Thorns at 6 p.m., they begin their pursuit of two of them: the NWSL Shield and a league title.

“Portland has not been a kind place for us to go to in the past,” Dames said.

The team took a week off following its disappointing fourth-place finish in the Challenge Cup tournament’s western division.

Kealia Watt and Danny Colaprico said ahead of Sunday’s match that it was a critical break. The Thorns are coming off a week break after beating Gotham FC in the Challenge Cup Final in a penalty kick shootout.

Dames said it’s a great opportunity to start the season off against Portland. Facing an opponent like that at the top of the schedule exposes a team’s weaknesses. If the Red Stars plan to be competing for a championship in the fall, they need to be exposed early.

“One of our coaches said, ‘However this game goes is going to set the tone of the season,’” Watt said. “He’s right. We need to go in, play well and get a win. That’s a must for us.”

Watt said the Challenge Cup gave the team a chance to figure out their identity. Despite a disappointing loss in Seattle to finish the tournament, Watt said that was their best game in terms of cohesiveness.

The team will be without Morgan Gautrat in the midfield against the Thorns. The league gave her a one-game suspension for unsportsmanlike conduct against OL Reign in the 56th minute of play during their April 27 match. Dames said he encourages Gautrat to play with more physicality.

Colaprico said it will be challenging to replace her, but the midfield is deep. In situations like this, they can rebound. Everybody else on the roster will be available to play, except for Emily Boyd.

The NWSL completed its independent anti-discrimination investigation on May 4 into Sarah Gorden’s claims that she and her boyfriend were racially profiled by a BBVA security guard following the team’s opening match of the Challenge Cup in Houston. Players took to social media to express their outrage at the league’s decision to close the investigation and take no disciplinary action.

As a team, Dames said they are committed to making sure Gorden is supported even if she wasn’t supported by the league.

“The people within our locker room certainly didn’t need an investigation to tell us what did or did not occur or if it was or was not ok,” Dames said. “Regardless of what any investigation turns up, it doesn’t change the way [Gorden] was made to feel.”

Dames did not detail Mallory Pugh’s status and whether or not she will be playing on a minutes restriction in Sunday’s match. He did say Pugh has continued to make progress week to week.

As a whole, it’s been a good week of training, the team said, which was critical as the Red Stars have a challenging start to the season. After playing on the road against the Thorns, the team’s season opener against Gotham FC on May 22 kicks off a three-game stretch in eight days.

The core group within this organization has been in Chicago for a considerable amount of time, and Dames said they help keep emotions at a moderate level. Still, expectations surrounding this team remain high.

“I do think when it’s all said and done [the Red Stars and the Thorns] will be two teams standing when it counts,” Dames said.