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Red Stars fighting exhaustion late in season

This week, the Red Stars added to their workload by playing in the first Women’s Cup tournament in Louisville, Kentucky. The four-team event, which runs through Saturday, features the Red Stars, Racing Louisville, Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain.

The Red Stars’ NWSL schedule has been unforgiving.

At different points this year, the Red Stars played three more games than other teams in the league. Sure, three games doesn’t sound like a lot, but that’s 270 more minutes, which is a significant difference.

This week, the Red Stars added to their workload by playing in the first Women’s Cup tournament in Louisville, Kentucky. The event, which runs through Saturday, features four teams: the Red Stars, Racing Louisville, FC Bayern Munich and Paris-Saint Germain.

On one hand, the Women’s Cup is a great way to grow the game in America. Pitting international powerhouses against one of the most successful NWSL teams in the Red Stars and a new franchise in Racing Louisville makes for great soccer.

But at what cost?

“I definitely didn’t feel good going into the game,” Red Stars defender Arin Wright said. “Out of all the games in the season, this game meant the most to me. There was no way I was not going to be on the field in front of my home state, all my friends and family for the first time as a pro.”

Wright’s sentiments are not unique for women in the NWSL. They sacrifice their bodies for the growth of the game and the hope they’ll leave the league a little better than they found it.

The Red Stars were coming off a match Saturday against the North Carolina Courage in Raleigh before they flew back to Chicago on Monday for one day of rest. They boarded a bus Tuesday and drove 300 miles to Lynn Family Stadium.

The team’s exhaustion was apparent in the first half of the match Wednesday against Louisville. The Red Stars trailed 1-0 early, but there was a shift in their mentality in the second half.

“We came back and fought like hell and got a tie,” forward Kealia Watt said.

It was the third match in a row in which the team trailed 1-0. Watt evened the score in the 57th minute, but Louisville advanced to the Women’s Cup championship on penalty kicks (5-4).

Officiating once again was an issue. There was an obvious handball on Louisville in the box late in the match that wasn’t called.

“If I went through all the points we’ve lost because of referees,” coach Rory Dames said. “We certainly don’t seem to be on the right side of a lot of calls this year.”

Tierna Davidson and Casey Krueger returned to the lineup and played the full 90 minutes. Alyssa Naeher and Julie Ertz remained out. Naeher still is recovering from a hyperextended knee and bone bruise she suffered in the Olympic semifinals. Dames doesn’t have a timetable for when Ertz will return, adding he doesn’t think she was able to rehab her knee properly before playing in the Olympics.

The third-place game between the Red Stars and Paris-Saint Germain is scheduled for 3 p.m. Saturday, followed by the championship match between Louisville and Bayern Munich at 6.

Dames said there will be significant turnover for Saturday’s game.

“There are players on our team that have been busting their ass for six months and haven’t really had chances,” Dames said. “We expect those players to come out and represent the club, and we’ll try to win the game.”