First, the good news: the Chicago Red Stars overcame Houston 2-0 in front of about 2000 people at Toyota Park. This was a must-win game for the Red Stars, and they got the job done. Anything less than a win would’ve thrown their entire season— and quite possibly Rory Dames’ job— into jeopardy. And so, when all is said and done, it’s the top-line result that matters, and the Red Stars came out on top.
And the bad news: getting to that 2-0 win was, at times, painful to watch.
The first half was the biggest problem. Chicago couldn’t quite get off on the right foot to start, and spent much of the first 20 minutes stuck in their own defensive half. Possession finally evened out, but even so, the Red Stars just didn’t seem to have it together at first. Lots of Route 1 balls handled too easily, and throughballs sent to attackers in offside position, and a diamond midfield not quite on the same rhythm. Had Houston been a little sharper, and had a more composed midfielder, the Red Stars likely would’ve went into the halftime break behind in the scoreline.
As it happened, the Dash had plenty of problems of their own. A level scoreline would’ve been more than fair to both teams at halftime.
But this sport can be cruel, and today Chicago benefited from the terrible hand of fate. As the first half wound down, Dani Colaprico sent in a long free kick; in the ensuing scramble, Sarah Hagen tried to head it away but inadvertently knocked it into her own net.
That ended up being effectively the last play of the half, and the Red Stars went into the break with an advantage that wasn’t entirely earned but welcomed all the same.
J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote that his magnum opus The Lord Of The Rings was a story that “grew in the telling.” While perhaps not quite as epic in scale, this game was definitely one that grew in the playing. Both sides came out in the second half more composed and just a bit sharper in the attack. Chicago in particular looked like they were pulling themselves together— no small thing, considering their tendency to fade as the game wears on so far this season. The Red Stars prosecuted a high-pressure attack, with their diamond midfielder finally clicking into place and forcing turnovers. Press and Huerta shifted into higher gear. Houston scrambled to keep up. You could sense that second goal coming.
And it did, just after the hour mark. Press sent in a cross, the ball was headed off to Julie Ertz, and the defender-come-midfielder (playing mostly as a #6-ish today) blasted a shot from close range to double the lead.
The last twenty minutes were, emotional attachments to one side or the other notwithstanding, exciting to watch. Houston clawed their way back into the game and put real pressure on Chicago. It took awhile for chances to develop, but once they did, the Red Stars were put on high alert. Nichelle Prince nearly got the Dash back in it after she was played through and got into prime position to shoot; thankfully, Alyssa Naeher managed to save the day.
But Houston just didn’t have enough in the tank, and Chicago managed to hold on for the 2-0 home win.
The Red Stars are back in action next Sunday at Toyota Park, when they host the surprisingly-resurgent Boston Breakers. If Chicago can manage another win, it should put some early doubts to rest.