The Chicago Red Stars battled back from a shockingly poor start to salvage a draw against fellow postseason contenders Portland as the NWSL returns from a brief international break.
With Christen Press and Julie Johnston back home, there was a terrific opportunity for the Red Stars to push their claim for top spot. Chicago and Portland went into the game level on points and just behind Western New York with a game in hand each.
A win for either would’ve catapulted them to the top. With two of the best defenses in the league and some potent attacking verve, Chicago knew they were going to have to come out strong at home against one of their strongest rivals this season.
Which is exactly the opposite of what happened. The Red Stars struggled to get anything going, unable to hold the ball for long or spring a promising counterattack for most of the first half. The opening 45 was all Portland— they out-ran, out-muscled, and out-performed their hosts. It was the Irresistible Force versus the Surprisingly Pliable Object.
Portland snatched the lead in the 24th minute when Christine Sinclair— celebrating her birthday— pounced on a bad backpass and bundled it past Alyssa Naeher for the goal. Rather than sit back and nurse the lead, the Thorns started pushing for more goals, keeping Chicago’s backline under constant pressure. That Portland only managed a 1-0 lead at halftime is something of a disservice, as Chicago look completely out of their depth.
The second half went a little better. The Red Stars slowly started to remember who they were and exerted pressure of their own. They stopped relying entirely on Route 1 football and tried to string some buildup together. The Thorns continued probing for another goal but the Red Stars were finally starting to give as good as they got.
The equalizer finally came just past the hour mark. Christen Press (who else?) uncorked from the 18 yard line; her shot was tipped up onto the crossbar by Adrianna Franch, but the ball hit the ground and spun over the goal line.
Both teams searched desperately for a winning goal, but by the 70th minute or so everyone started looking leggy. As normal time ticked down, there was a growing sense that a point would be just fine. The Red Stars gave it one good go right at the end, but the Thorns hung on for the draw.
Chicago are now unbeaten in seven games, with 15 points at the end of Week 8. They are tied for first place with Western New York, with Portland and Washington right behind them with 14 points each. The Red Stars host bottom-of-the-table Boston next Saturday.