The Red Stars have a lot of work ahead of them.
A strong-on-paper Chicago team folded into a heap of shakiness and uncertainty as the Houston Dash cruised to a dominant 3-1 performance to open the 2016 NWSL season.
CRS got off to a promising early start when Christen Press pounced on a defensive error and slotted the ball Lydia Williams to open a 1-0 lead in the 13th minute.
And it was all downhill from there.
Houston’s rookie forward Rachel Daly capitalized on a slip by Sam Johnson and her clinical finish brought the Dash back on level terms in the 22nd minute.
The rest of the first half was a tense and at times thrilling back-and-forth contest, with Houston’s midfield strength giving them a slight edge. Yet Chicago just about managed to hold on and head into tunnel with the scoreline still level.
In the second half it all fell apart. The communication and chemistry issues that had started to emerge in the first half had fully gripped the team in the latter 45 minutes and Houston made the most of it. Carli Lloyd finished some excellent build-up play with a thundering close-range header to put Houston ahead in the 51st minute.
Not three minutes later, another defensive error on Chicago’s part gave the Dash an opening and Janine Beckie hit a gorgeous curling shot to put the game out of reach.
If anything, the score flattered Chicago. It could’ve easily ended at 4-1 or even 5-1 but for some a superhuman performance from newly-arrived goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, who was easily Chicago’s best player of the night.
Once Houston bagged their third all the air went out of Chicago’s tires. The Dash, for the most part, were content to run out the last 20 minutes or so for the sake of nailing down their first three points.
Some had speculated that chemistry and bedding-in issues might creep up this season, and from this first game it’s clear that it’s a much bigger problem than anyone had foreseen. The squad, and Rory Dames, will need to do a lot of work this week to clear up miscommunication issues ahead of the home opener on Saturday against Western New York.
The NWSL season isn’t that long, relatively speaking, and while it’s early days every game counts. The 2015 Red Stars only lost three regular season games all season. This is a solid team, on paper. They just need to pull it together.