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Star forward? Check. Second scoring threat? That’s a work in progress for the Red Stars

• Chicago’s game plan for too long has relied on one star forward
• Kerr, then Swanson (nee Pugh) each accounted for about half of team scoring opportunities in recent seasons
• Red Stars have some promising young players to fill the roles, and a new system with flexibility

© Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Red Stars were a different team in 2022. They had a new head coach in Chris Petrucelli, who implemented a new system, and a new style of play. Yet, for all the change, an old dynamic remained: they relied heavily on their star player. Previously, that star was Sam Kerr. Now, it is Mallory Swanson.

In 2018 and 2019, Chicago was a defend-and-counter team, happy to sit off, win the ball in midfield, then look to release Kerr on the break. In both seasons, the Red Stars averaged just under 50% possession. Then they lost Kerr, and tried to replicate her output (34 combined goals in two seasons) by sharing the goal-scoring burden around three or four players. They became even more defensive in 2021, grinding their way to the National Women’s Soccer League Championship game.

When Petrucelli was appointed in early 2022, he promised an attacking style of soccer. He brought in a back three, which ensured an extra option to play out from, and helped the team to retain the ball for longer spells. Their possession shot up — from the lowest in the NWSL in 2021 (44.1%) to the third-highest in 2022 (51.8%).

From back four to back three, from counter-attacking to possession-based, Chicago performed an aesthetic 180-turn last season. Still, the basic premise remained: they wanted to draw the opponent out before finding their best player in space as early and as often as they possibly could. 

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