Chicago Red Stars 1 Press 67’ (PK)
There were some real questions over how or whether the Red Stars would bounce back tonight in Orlando. Their midweek loss in Seattle 72 hours ago left them tired and demoralized. How would they manage to pull it together?
The answer, basically, is that they wouldn’t. This team tired quicker than usual, and when they were at their most energetic they weren’t particularly shot. The team we saw today was much more deserving of a loss than the one that ran out against Seattle.
But soccer is a funny game. And as such, this team somehow managed to push back Orlando on their own turf, and a 2nd half penalty gave Chicago a 1-0 win that they, frankly, didn’t exactly deserve.
There were also some real questions over whether the game would actually happen. As it happened, kickoff was delayed an hour thanks to inclement weather. The officials ultimately decided to go ahead and have themselves a soccer game, but both sets of players were soaked by the time the national anthems were finished.
The first half was... well, it was about what you’d expect from a team on a rough travel schedule coming off a demoralizing loss 72 hours before. They didn’t look tired per se, but they definitely weren’t at their best.
Orlando were very clearly the better team through much of the first half— in both possession and chances. I couldn’t tell you why they failed to score that half, but I can’t really put it down to a tight defense. Truth be told, Chicago struggled. Some of it is down to their typical mix of strength and skill, but they were also exceptionally lucky. The Red Stars started to claw their way back in as the half drew to a close, but it was less a function of the team getting its act together and more about Christen Press picking her team up by the scruff of the neck and pulling it along.
I wonder sometimes if these are the kind of games where Press thrives. She seems to do her best work when she does her own thing, to take on opposing defenses and launch her own attacks and not be too bothered when she misses. If I had to compare her to anyone in the men’s game, it might be Gerard Deulofeu. She has that same kind of solo play, that arrogant I’ll-fight-all-of-you mentality that’s brilliant when it works.
Anyway, both teams went into the half scoreless, which was... incredible, given the siege Orlando was prosecuting.
Chicago came out a little more focused in the second half but it was still very much Orlando’s day. Chances were more equal, but the Pride were starting to get frustrated. They started to rely more on an aerial crossing game to create, and it wasn’t quite working. They almost would’ve been better letting Marta do what she wanted.
The Pride had uncounted chances to go ahead in the scoreline, and with 20-ish minutes left in the game the Red Stars finally made them pay for their wastefulness. Fresh off the bench, Casey Short drew a penalty— atonement, perhaps, for conceding one on Wednesday in Seattle— and Christen Press dutifully converted. 1-0 to the visitors.
The intervening minutes were... well, it was hard to watch. The Red Stars parked the bus, taking a perfectly fine game of soccer and turning it into a game of keep-away. There wasn’t much excitement save for stoppage time. An Orlando corner kick forced a goalline clearance, then a follow-up shot that banged off the crossbar and back out.
And THEN, with seconds remaining, Press held up play after going down with an injury.
It was a lot to take in all at once.
Long story short, the whistle blew and Chicago held on for a win. It wasn’t pretty, but it’s three desperately-needed points. Sometimes that’s the best you can hope for.
The Chicago Red Stars (7W 2D 3L, 23pts, 2nd place) continue their road trip on Friday night as they head north along the Eastern Seaboard to take on Boston.