Maybe the fatigue that had seeped into the team finally caught up with them. Maybe there’s a playoff curse at Toyota Park. Maybe it was just bad luck.
Whatever the cause, the Red Stars’ barnstorming 2015 campaign came to an ignominious end. Amy Rodriguez and Erika Tymrak hit the home side for three goals between them within the first half hour as Chicago went crashing out of the NWSL playoffs with barely a fight.
After a strong performance to open the game, Chicago goalkeeper Michelle Dalton committed the first of several baffling errors to unsettle her team. A mental lapse allowed Lauren Holiday to strip the ball from her in the box. A-Rod collected the rebound and tapped it into an empty net to give Kansas City an early 1-0 lead.
The concession seemed to have a bigger psychological effect on the Red Stars than the scoreline would otherwise suggest. Chicago started committing cheap giveaways in midfield while the backline seemed harried and panicky. Nine minutes after the opening goal, Tymrak doubled the lead at the end of a quick counter as she beat Dalton at the near post.
And just three minutes later, the tie was effectively settled. A-Rod hit Chicago on the break and went one-on-one with Dalton. The KC attacker managed to completely fool Dalton and send her sprawling to the ground, leaving Rodriguez with yet another open net. With just 25 minutes gone, Kansas City had a 3-0 lead.
FCKC would manage to see that lead out. The Red Stars had moments of strong play and created their share of chances- especially in the second half- but the defending NWSL champions fended off Chicago’s efforts. The Red Stars, known all season for their lethal finishing, couldn’t make good on any of their chances. Christen Press in particular had possibly her weakest performance of the season, routinely trying to do too much or giving the ball away in a dangerous spot. When she did get a shot off, it was either too weak to trouble Nicole Barnhart or was well off-target.
Chicago’s performance was as remarkable as it was disappointing. All the hallmarks of the 2015 Red Stars- strong finishing, stingy defending, dominance of both possession and space- were completely absent in what was undoubtedly the biggest game in their history as an NWSL team. It’s hard to say how or why Chicago were so limp today, or why they seemed to surrender far too easily. Regardless, the 3-0 loss was utterly deserved. They had a big job today, and the team did not show up.
So what happens next? Hard to say. Rory Dames will undoubtedly have a lot of work to do in the offseason as he tries to identify what went wrong. Figuring out who to retain for next season and who to let go will also be a difficult task. There are plenty of bright spots and signs of encouragement to take into 2016, and there’s no reason to think we won’t challenge for a playoff spot again next year.
But for now, all we can say is that 2015 was an incredible season for the Red Stars. And it deserved a much better ending.