CHICAGO – The last time they were in a situation similar to this, it produced one of the great moments in franchise history.
After a group of players returned from the 2019 Women’s World Cup, including four who were on the champion United States women’s national team, the Chicago Red Stars sold out their homecoming match against the North Carolina Courage. They’d win that afternoon, adding another moment to a memorable season where they’d advance to the NWSL Championship Game.
Two years later, there is another group of players who are coming back after playing with the national team, this time following the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo. But of the four players that represented the country, only two will be on the field for this Saturday’s homecoming match at SeatGeek Stadium.
Defenders Casey Krueger and Tierna Davidson will be on the squad as they host Kansas City at 7 PM in Bridgeview, but their teammates Julie Ertz and Alyssa Naeher won’t be ready to play. The goalkeeper remains out with a hyperextended knee and bone contusion suffered against Canada in the Olympic semifinals, while the forward/defender is dealing with hamstring and lower back issues, per manager Rory Dames.
But having both defenders back is still a boost for Kealia Watt and the club, who have advertised the match featuring the return of the Olympians.
“It’s so awesome. We’re so proud of them,” said Watt of Krueger & Davidson. “We know it was a long road for them as well and just to have them back playing, it really brings a new energy to the team, and obviously they’re incredible players, so to have them back on the field with us just brings us so much confidence.”
Saturday’s home debut will actually be the second with Red Stars since the Olympics, with both taking part in the team’s opener of The Women’s Cup last Wednesday against Louisville Racing FC. Having them back certainly helps Dames as he preps for the final eight games of the NWSL season, but he didn’t forget those who helped to fill in with them out.
“The players – Kayla Sharples, Tatumn Milazzo, Sarah Gordon, Arin (Wright) certainly played hurt a lot for us during that stretch – did a great job,” said Dames. “‘You can put a true value on how important it is to get Casey and ‘T’ back into the lineup.”
Especially with a playoff berth very much within reach in an NWSL where the standings are bunched up in the middle. Right now the Red Stars are tied for fifth with 21 points, but are just one point out of third place and five away from second.
With six teams getting into the 2021 NWSL Playoffs, getting close to full strength now is quite beneficial for a team fighting for the postseason.
“We have a renewed focus of, ‘OK, we have everybody that we’re getting back, back, and now it’s time to start winning these games,'” said Watt.
Getting the Olympians back in front of the home fans Saturday should help the cause, too.
“It’s been so cool to get to meet them and see them,” said Watt of the fans, who like most around sports have begun to return to home matches the last few months. “Hopefully we have a big crowd to welcoming these girls back on Saturday and I cant wait to see everybody.”