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Red Stars push through second three-game stretch of NWSL season

Rory Dames said Tuesday’s game against OL Reign was an opportunity to give players a runout in a game setting to see where they are at ahead of the Olympic break

North Carolina Courage forward Kristen Hamilton (23) and Chicago Red Stars defender Sarah Gorden battle for the ball as Red Stars defender Casey Krueger (6) closes in during the second half of an NWSL soccer match on June 5 at SeatGeek Stadium.
North Carolina Courage forward Kristen Hamilton (23) and Red Stars defender Sarah Gorden battle for the ball as Red Stars defender Casey Krueger (6) closes in during the second half of an NWSL soccer match on June 5 at SeatGeek Stadium.
Shafkat Anowar/AP

The Red Stars are closing out another challenging stretch, playing three games in eight days, including one on the road. It’s the second time this season that the Red Stars have faced such a tough grind.

Coach Rory Dames said what’s confusing to him is why his team already has played seven games while other teams only have played five.

Scheduling isn’t necessarily being used as an excuse by the Red Stars (2-3-2), but there’s no doubting the impact.

“You have a home game on Saturday, another the next Saturday, and a game across the country on Tuesday,” Dames said. “So you pick your poison on which one you want to go after. We obviously held players out so we have them for Saturday.”

Dames said the game Tuesday against OL Reign was more of an opportunity to give players a runout in a game setting to see where they are ahead of the Olympic break, which isn’t a break for the NWSL.

The starting 11 against OL Reign looked a lot different than it has all season.

Alyssa Mautz, who played on June 5 for the first time since tearing her ACL last year, got her first start since 2019. Nikki Stanton played her first 90-minute game since leaving the Red Stars in 2020 to play overseas. Bianca St. Georges got her first start for the Red Stars this season after suffering a knee injury at training camp with the Canadian National Team.

St. Georges was not selected for the Canadian National Team’s Olympic roster.

Against OL Reign, the Red Stars got behind early, giving up a goal in the first minute. Sofia Huerta assisted the second goal of the night in the 18th minute, a cross headed in by Bethany Balcer.

OL Reign controlled 63.2% of the possession time and gave up just one shot on goal.

“Bianca and Tatumn [Milazzo] need minutes and need games,” Dames said. “So is Sofia as influential if Arin [Wright] or Casey [Krueger] are in? I don’t know.”

The Red Stars had three players — Alyssa Naeher, Tierna Davidson and Julie Ertz —selected to the U.S. Women’s National Team Olympic roster. Krueger was selected as an alternate.

The Olympic team will begin training camp at the end of the month ahead of the Send-Off Series against Mexico on July 1 and 5 at Pratt & Whitney Stadium in East Hartford, Connecticut.

Head coach Vlatko Andonovski said he did not see any risk in selecting Ertz to the Olympic roster given her lack of playing time. Ertz suffered a right knee MCL sprain in the Red Stars’ season-opening 5-0 loss to the Portland Thorns.

Andonovski said Ertz’s rehab is progressing well and he expects her to get minutes on the field in closed-door games in Japan. He’s hoping to increase her minutes by the group stage.

Krueger’s selection as an alternate came after she worked herself back into USWNT form following the COVID-19 pandemic and a couple of minor injuries last year that left her sidelined. She missed a few national-team camps in the fall and winter but a replacement invite to the SheBelieves Cup put her back on Andonovski’s radar.

“We know how good she can be,” Andonovski said. “We know her potential. We know she knows the system well. Looking at all the games she’s played in the NWSL has earned her a spot on our team.”

The Red Stars host Racing Louisville (2-3-1) at 1 p.m. Saturday at SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview.