The first home game of the season is always something of a victory. For a team that’s played in three different leagues, that’s had to rebuild its roster several times, that only recently got to a point where a playoff berth was a reasonable goal to pursue, and for a team that has had to migrate from one home to another, this warm spring day at Toyota Park definitely had a subtle air of triumph.
And the Chicago Red Stars, still licking their wounds from their 2-0 loss in Houston last week to start the 2017 NWSL campaign, made the most of the added wind in their sails. With the sun on their backs, Chicago Local 134 in full voice, and ersatz central defender Julie Ertz playing in the #10 role, the Red Stars nailed down a 1-0 win over FC Kansas City and their first three points of the season.
The first half of the first home game of the season had Chicago more or less controlling the game, albeit at a tortoise pace. The Red Stars never really appeared to be in trouble, but it took a good 20 minutes for the home team to find a rhythm that worked for them and fend off Kansas City’s prodding. Once they got their groove it was all Chicago all day. They well could’ve finished the first half up 2-0 or 3-0 but for the somewhat unfortunate reality that Nicole Barnhart is very good at what she does.
As it is, the Red Stars had to settle for a 1-0 lead at the break, made in possible thanks to
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting a lovely side-footed strike from close range by defender-cum-attacking-mid Julie Ertz (nee Johnston).
Chicago came out strong in the second half and pushed relentlessly for some insurance goals but were thwarted at every turn by a scrambling but effective Kansas City defense. Christen Press had a golden opportunity to double the lead fairly early in Act II when the Red Stars were given a penalty, but her shot drifted wide of the post. Still, the home side pounded on the door, eager to make an early-season statement.
Yet with time running out, roles were reversed and the Red Stars found themselves doing what they so often do with a 1-0 lead— pull back and hang on for dear life while repelling a siege. And today, it was enough.
The Red Stars will look to build on today’s momentum as they travel to Portland next Saturday. It’s still too early in the season to see what this team is capable of, but, at the very least, we seem to be at least on par with the past two seasons. All the pieces are in place for a playoff run, if not a shot at the NWSL Championship. It’s a question of whether the team can arrange itself in a way that makes it possible.