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Will middle-of-the-pack Red Stars fulfill their championship goals?

Midfielder Sarah Woldmoe says the team is striving for consistency in a highly competitive playoff race.

Chicago Red Stars v Houston Dash
Mallory Pugh #9 of Chicago Red Stars celebrates her goal with Danielle Colaprico #24 and Sarah Woldmoe #16 during the first half against the Houston Dash at BBVA Stadium on May 29, 2021 in Houston, Texas.
Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Seasons are filled with defining moments, but they typically aren’t reflected upon until the year is over.

For the Red Stars, there’s one moment that already can be acknowledged as a turning point. It took place in June after a 1-0 victory against the North Carolina Courage at SeatGeek Stadium.

The team, still fresh-faced and looking to establish continuity, got its first statement win.

“We put together a full 90 minutes,” midfielder Sarah Woldmoe said. “It was the first time we proved that we can tough it out with the best, that we’re going to be a hard team to compete against.”

The Red Stars have not been the dominant squad that was expected after they added Mallory Pugh and Woldmoe to their 2020 Challenge Cup title-contending roster. Their depth combined with their experience had them pegged as a top-tier NWSL team.

Even among themselves, expectations were high, with players saying at the start of the season that winning every available trophy was the goal.

With seven games left in the regular season, the Red Stars have shown they’re more of a middle-of-the-pack team that, on its best day, can compete with the league’s elite.

Under the new playoff format, the top six teams in the standings will secure a spot in the playoffs. The top two teams receive byes, and the third- and fourth-place teams host their first-round games.

The Red Stars sit in fifth place with Gotham FC, the Washington Spirit and the Houston Dash on their heels. They won’t play the Spirit again in the regular season but face Gotham and the Dash one more time, both on the road.

They are 2-5-1 on the road, losing twice to Gotham and once to the Dash.

“Every day [the mentality is] wake up, focus on what needs to get done to make sure the team is in a good position that day,” Woldmoe said.

Balancing that mentality with the fact that the playoff race is so tight is challenging, but Woldmoe said they have the right veterans who understand that balance.

The Red Stars will carry momentum from a 3-0 victory against Kansas City into their road game Saturday night against Gotham. Woldmoe said last week’s win boosted the team’s confidence, but it didn’t alter the fact that they’re winless against Gotham on the road.

Former Red Stars lead assistant coach Scott Parkinson was announced as Gotham’s new coach this week after Freya Coombe departed the organization to become Angel City FC’s first head coach.

The Red Stars return to SeatGeek Stadium for a highly anticipated matchup against the league-best Portland Thorns on Sept. 25. Then they’ll face the Orlando Pride (twice), OL Reign and Kansas City.

The point differential separating the third-place Reign from the sixth-place Spirit shows exactly how tight the NWSL playoff race is. Still, the expectations were that the Red Stars would have a little more cushion this late in the season.

“With the number of good teams this year in the league, consistency is something most teams have been struggling with,” Woldmoe said.

“That’s something we’re still striving for and toward the end of the year will be really important for us.”