On the eve of the most important match of the 2021 season to date, Mallory Pugh became the focus of a headline that no athlete ever wants to be part of. As a result, the Chicago Red Stars semifinal odds swung even heavier in Portland Thorns FC‘s favor.
Chicago will face Portland without the services of their most dangerous attacker Sunday at 4:30 p.m. CT on CBS Sports Network for a spot in the NWSL Championship. Illinois sportsbooks‘ lines reflect the numbers regarding the Red Stars’ attack without Pugh.
Chicago Red Stars semifinal odds at IL sportsbooks
Simply put, Chicago is a massive underdog at Providence Park Sunday. The numbers and key matchups around the pitch bear out why, especially with Pugh out of the lineup due to testing positive for COVID-19. Pugh has yet to verify receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.
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Pugh not only scored the game-winner in last weekend’s quarterfinal match but led the club during the regular season with five goals. The Red Stars’ attack had been on the upswing and Pugh was a big part of that.
Chicago’s expected goal rate has skyrocketed but without Pugh, it’s fair for bettors to expect some return to the mean on Sunday. Pugh’s absence makes defending against other attackers like Kealia Watt easier for Portland as well.
As a consolation of sorts for Red Stars hopefuls is the fact that the numbers show the Thorns are not the same club that gave Chicago a 5-0 thrashing in both sides’ regular-season openers. The ability of the Red Stars to contend elsewhere on the pitch is encouraging as well.
Portland’s diminished XG and Chicago’s loaded back and midfields
While Chicago’s XG has improved at the right time, the Thorns’ has headed in the opposite direction. In fact, for a lot of matches during the middle of the regular season, Portland saw an XG below one.
That stabilized a bit at the very end of the regular season, coming out around 1.1. Another factor bettors need to quantify when considering this match is how much value they want to give the Thorns having last weekend off.
Those fresher legs might play a big part in the middle of the field and the Red Stars’ backend. That’s also where Chicago is most talented coming into this match, however. While the Red Stars will still be without defender Casey Krueger due to illness, they stymied a talented NJ/NY Gotham FC attack last weekend without her.
Tierna Davidson and ironwoman Sarah Gorden still anchor a loaded backline. The midfield might be where the dominance of possession will be decided, then. Accurate passing and winning 50/50 balls by the likes of Danielle Colaprico, Morgan Gautrat, and Sarah Woldmoe will be key.
All season long, Chicago has had inferior form away from home as compared to when playing at SeatGeek Stadium. As an example, they defeated this same Thorns club 2-1 when they faced them in Bridgeview on Sept. 25.
However, due to Portland’s early-season success, the Thorns haven’t had a seriously competitive match in over a month. They had enough points built up to be able to “coast” and still claim the Shield.
IL sportsbooks thought Portland was the superior club before Pugh’s absence became public. If the Red Stars find their way into the title match without her, they will make some bettors who backed them despite the odds quite happy Sunday.