RALEIGH, N.C. — When the Chicago Red Stars take the pitch against the North Carolina Courage in the National Women’s Soccer League final Sunday, they’ll be missing a key member of their defense and one of the best defenders in the league.
The club announced Friday that Tierna Davidson sprained her ankle in training Thursday and would miss the championship match. Davidson did not travel with the team to North Carolina on Friday – so she was absent from media day – but will attend Sunday’s final.
“Just disappointed for her,” Chicago Red Stars’ head coach Rory Dames said of Davidson on Friday. “But if there was a position where we were going to lose somebody, that’s the most experience we have coming off the bench… It definitely simplifies what we’ll do in the game.”
Dames said that Davidson’s injury occurred during the early minutes of training Thursday before the team flew into North Carolina for the final. Dames said it was a non-contact injury.
Davidson, 21, was in the rookie year of her professional career. She started all 14 games she appeared in with Chicago, scoring one goal while racking up an 80 percent success rate on tackles, 18 interceptions and 59 clearances. The Stanford product also featured for the U.S. national team at the World Cup, starting, playing 90 minutes and dishing out two assists in their group stage victory over Chile.
“Tierna made a name for herself and had a really good season,” Courage forward Kristen Hamilton said.
When Davidson was in the lineup for Chicago, they posted seven clean sheets and allowed just 0.92 goals per-game. In the 11 games Davidson didn’t play in for the Red Stars, they posted just two clean sheets and allowed 1.36 goals per-game.
It’s clear that Davidson’s absence is a blow to Chicago’s defense, but the players aren’t shaken in their confidence.
“I don’t think anything really changes as far as what we want to do. It’s just really unfortunate timing with that happening,” Chicago fullback Casey Short told Pro Soccer USA. “She’s a big part of the defense and she’s been really solid back there, but overall, I think the goal is the same thing.”
Of course, Dames hasn’t unveiled his lineup yet for Sunday’s final, but it is likely that Katie Naughton will slot in for the injured Davidson on the back-line.
A 25-year-old Illinois native and former Notre Dame star, Naughton isn’t a stranger or a slouch. She hasn’t started since Aug. 25, but has come off the bench four times since then. She knows the Chicago defense well and has tallied 30 tackles, 84 clearances, 27 interceptions and a 73 percent passing accuracy over 23 appearances this season, 18 of them starts.
In fact, Naughton started and played a full 90 minutes in each of the Red Stars’ previous three games against the Courage this year. Naughton is as familiar with the North Carolina attack as anyone on the Chicago defense.
“I think that we’ve done a lot of film work and scouting on (the Courage), to try and predict what they’re going to do. Then it’s just matching up with them as best as we can,” Naughton said. “I think we’re one of the few teams that’s able to do that, more so athletically than other teams, so down the stretch, I think that’s going to play a big role in the game and we’ll ultimately handle it well.”