James Bridget Gordon: Readers, this is a special edition Red Stars Roundtable, which we're convening to discuss Chicago's 1-0 loss to North Carolina and the end of their 2017 season. Our Fire Roundtable will run tomorrow afternoon, as per usual.
So as we all know by now, the Red Stars' season is done. For the third year in a row, Chicago did just enough to get into the playoffs and then crashed out of the semifinals.
There's a lot to get through with this game, but I want to start with the obvious question: what went wrong for the Red Stars?
Sandra Herrera: Kickoff. Kickoff went wrong for the Red Stars.
To be fair, neither team in this semifinal looked as if they were a very convincing side, but 1 shot on goal screams louder than anything else to me on the stat sheet.
Solid work from Casey Short and Katie Naughton, mvps of the game if had to pick any. Unfortunately goals are needed if your team is going to advance, and Colaprico, Huerta, DiBernardo, and Ertz just could not build anything out of their midfield. A lackluster mid felt eerily similar to their 2016 semifinal loss to Washington.
Have to wonder if Press was played lower (like she is for CRS at times) or even Yuki subbed into the 10, Huerta pushed up top with Press, and DiBernardo lower - could've had a better impact on the game? It's all speculation now.
The team looked pretty gassed well before the 90th minute, and you have to question if extended minutes in the national team to lack of minutes with their club down the stretch played a role in the overall tone of this match.
That all being said, it's been one hell of a ride. Shout out to the players on getting into the playoffs again. Better to get to the dance, than never dance at all.
Ralph Schudel: I take a similar stance to Sandra, but I have to add Arin Gilliland into the discussion. She was a player that impressed me a lot yesterday as she handled every challenge that was thrown her way from North Carolina. With familiar names like the USWNT contingent on the Red Stars it's easy to lose players like Gilliland in the shuffle.
I think she was incredibly impressive.
To talk about fatigue for a second, I wonder if this team is just gassed given all of their travel with the national team and the fact they essentially went coast to coast for their playoff match. I'm not blaming the travel schedule but I'm curious if it played a factor.
Lastly, the Red Stars played on turf last week and I'm curious how much time they spent practicing on grass this week. The worst part about for a player is going back to grass because of the tremendous strain it puts on your calves and shins so recovery is key. Add to the fact the ball was slowed and it's a tough day for any athlete.
Sandra: All good in game factors to note for sure. There are two teams playing in similar conditions though. And (NC)17-6(CHI) on total shots, with only one shot goal? That's a rough day at the office.
Ralph: North Carolina is solid and were swarming the Red Stars all day. It seems Chicago we’re content to play on the counter but the Courage played stifling defense. They should be commended.
Sandra: Ran the table all year for a reason. From just a general soccer/NWSL view, hard to be upset at #1 and #2 going after it for the Championship.
Ralph: Agreed. Gives it an undisputed type of feel. Can’t be mad after having a day to process it.
James Bridget: I want to touch back on what Sandra said earlier about the team looking gassed. Are we all comfortable putting that down to fatigue? Or might there be something else going on?
Ralph: I’m good with fatigue. It looked pretty evident.
James Bridget: I'm not so sure. Most of the Starting XI was rested last week against Portland. Like, giving them that breather was seemingly more important than higher seeding.
I feel like if it WAS fatigue then the team was very, very tired, because that rest for key players last week wasn't enough.
Sandra: It's a fair assumption. However, they showed signs of it during the end of that Houston game as well where they clinched a playoff berth.
And it's not something that made it into my coverage of Portland v Chicago last weekend, but in post game comments Huerta was optimistic about heading into the semifinal, but did admit that she hadn't got a run out with the red stars in a while (due to being in national camps) and that subbing on mid game she could feel that she was a bit tight, but felt better as the game went on. (She did score the lone goal.)
It's not a consolation in anyway to see that as a sort of factor in a semifinal match, but it appeared evident, and unfortunately here we are having to discuss it today.
It's also fair to question the resting of players. Yes Chicago had entered Portland on a 4 game unbeaten streak, but were they playing well enough to warrant an abrupt stop to their play before heading into the semi final?
I don't think anyone faults the idea of resting players before a big game, but a stop gap in chemistry vs having to pick it up again in a high stakes game AND let's add in some fatigue? Not a winning combination.
James Bridget: That's a very good point.
Ralph: Another thought I had this morning was that athletes are creatures of habit. I'm almost wondering if the rest did more harm than good
Sandra: "REST GATE" lol
Ralph: I mean call me crazy but these women have been in such a routine, part of me wonders if that wasn't a contributing factor.
Sandra: Nah, you're not crazy. It's not unfair to question it. It's something that I'm sure will be thought about/questioned. Just like some can easily say "well you're pro athletes, do the thing" got to view both sides.
James Bridget: Maybe it's a Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don't thing. Chicago plays their best XI in a game that doesn't really matter except for seeding, you risk having players wiped out (or injured!) ahead of the big playoff game. Rest some key people, and you mess with team chemistry.
Sandra: Yep. It's a tough position to be in. Honestly after seeing Sam Johnson go out with what looked like (at the time) a JAW injury, I was like NOPE, ALL THE REST. Lol
It’s def a double-edged sword.
James Bridget: I can't think of a better way to phrase this question, but: is there anything the Red Stars could've done differently?
Sandra: Maybe figure out a way to get Press the ball? She wasn’t given enough opportunities for touches on the ball. So I guess in that sense, figure out a way to allow Short to into her offensive game instead of having to defend EVERYTHING during that game?
And maybe better use of subs? Mautz had a solid year for the club and she saw 2 minutes of action the team's most important game.
Again, it all comes down to the midfield for me. They were the key this season. Just not on this day and it honestly pains me to write that because Julie Ertz had an MVP caliber season for her club.
James Bridget: I feel like our entire starting midfield had career years in 2017. Ertz, for sure, but look at DiBernardo and Colaprico as well.
And yeah, it effing burns that they couldn't get a Championship Final for all their work.
Sandra: Gotta be stellar when it counts too.
Shout out to the players, have seen some great post match coverage where they are holding themselves accountable. Looking forward to watching what they're up to in the offseason, and covering them in the bounce back.
Ralph: To continue that point, I think the Red Stars did everything they could tactically to keep NC in check. They ran into a buzz saw though. Like Sandra said it's going to be great watching this team going forward. I think the sky is the limit for them.
James Bridget: Agreed. On paper this is a championship-caliber team. It's only a matter of time before it all comes together for them.
Ralph: I speak for myself but I’m sure my colleagues feel the same, but it’s not hard to root for this team. I really would love to see them succeed and having spoken with JJ, Press, and Sofia, my mind is at ease with players like this towards the future
James Bridget: For sure. I wouldn't mind getting an upgrade in central defense during the offseason. I love Johnson and Naughton but if we're in a position to bring in someone like, oh, say, Ali Krieger, I think we should go for it.
Ok, let's go ahead and wrap things up. Final thoughts on the semifinal?
Ralph: Proud of this team for sure, part of me wonders if an alternate universe of the starters had rested, would they have performed better against the Courage?
Very proud of the team.
Also JBG, I know we talked Krieger last night. I LOVE the idea. She would be a great leader for this team.
James Bridget: For sure. A spine of Press-DiBern-Ertz-Krieger-Naeher would be indomitable and I want it so bad.
Sandra: Ali Krieger is a dream my friend, haha.
My final thoughts are pretty similar to those already stated. This loss looks/feels bit more sting worthy compared to last year I think because of some of the stronger more sophisticated soccer played at times this season. Hopefully next season can be more consistent, with the payoff being even sweeter.