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A Darker Shade Of Blue: Sky Blue FC 2, Chicago Red Stars 2, NWSL game recap

The Red Stars jumped out to an early 2-0 lead only to blow it by the 90th minute and settle for a draw

Photo via Chicago Red Stars

Sky Blue FC 2 Hayes 32’, Kerr 90’

Chicago Red Stars 2 Huerta 4’, Press 26’

First things first, I need to grouse about a logistical snafu. NWSL teams aren’t great about releasing their teamsheets in advance— while MLS teams usually post theirs an hour before kickoff, NWSL comms people usually don’t release theirs until 20-30 minutes before the game starts. The Red Stars generally follow suit. It sucks, but I’ve learned to deal. Tonight, though, the Red Stars released their teamsheet five minutes before kickoff, and well after their opponents. Also, there was a bit of confusion when the lineup they posted on Twitter didn’t match what they had handed to media. The updated tweet didn’t match it either.

I mean, look. NWSL teams don’t have a lot of money or logistical support. They get by on intern labor and the benefit of the doubt. We all know this. But getting a correct teamsheet out on time is one of those things that clubs A. really should get right and B. is pretty easy to get right. For this to be such a consistent problem is baffling.

<comes down from soapbox>

With that out of the way: the Chicago Red Stars ended their four-game road trip in disappointment, blowing an early 2-0 lead against Sky Blue FC to draw 2-2 and settle for a point.

The result means Chicago went 1-1-2 on this road trip, with five points earned out of a possible twelve. It could’ve been worse, but that’s still not great.

Teamsheet nonsense aside, no one had to make any wild guesses as to who opened the scoring for the Red Stars. With Chicago turning the screw following a set piece, Sofia Huerta collected the ball outside the box and hit her shot, sending the ball through traffic and into the back of the net. Barely five minutes in and Chicago had the lead, with Sky Blue’s defense in disarray.

I half-expected Chicago to sit back and try to defend the lead, at leas through the half. I can’t tell you how grateful I was to be proven wrong. The Red Stars turned the heat up, hassling SB’s defensive line, finding wedges and pounding on them. 20 minutes in, it was a wonder that Chicago weren’t up 2-0. Sky Blue eventually settled down but they were clearly not ready for what their visitors were throwing down. It’s telling that they had to resort to professional fouls so early in the game.

Chicago didn’t have to wait long for that second goal. Vanessa DiBernardo hit a ball over the top and found Christen Press alone in the box. #23 chested the ball down and, with the AR keeping the offside flag down, side-footed it past the keeper and inside the near post. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the way Press just floated past her defenders to get on the other end of that ball was just magic.

The tide of good feelings were destined to recede, however, but it was disappointing that the reality check came as quickly as it did. Just past the hour mark, Sam Kerr sent in a cross from the right flank, which was brought down by Taylor Lytle and led to a scrum inside the six. Maya Hayes came out on top in the struggle and managed to poke the ball past Alyssa Naeher. 2-1.

Once they got on the board, Sky Blue started playing with confidence. They turned the tables on the Red Stars in the pressure game. They were more forceful in the attacking third. Sam Kerr nearly took Julie Ertz out of the game. (For as much as I cringed watching that unfold, you gotta respect the hustle.) They nearly got an equalizer after a counterattack ended with Kerr storming the box and nearly putting one past Naeher. A few minutes and some corner kicks later, SB got another chance to level the score when Sarah Killion hit a shot from near the penalty spot but only managed to strike the crossbar.

That ended up being the home side’s last real chance of the half. The Red Stars went into the break up 2-1 and, despite Sky Blue’s assault toward the end of the half, felt pretty good about themselves.

Meanwhile, the natives were getting restless.

The start of the second half was... I don’t want to say sedate, but there was definitely a bit of a slowdown. The biggest jolt early in the half came in the 55th minute, when a charging Press teed up a shot for Huerta just inside the box, only for it to be blocked by Kailen Sheridan.

And right before the hour mark, Press nearly had a repeat of her goal when she chested down a ball from over the top and shot from a tight angle; this time her attempted was parried by Sheridan.

Alyssa Mautz came back seconds later with a shot outside the box, also blocked by the Sky Blue keeper. Sometimes it takes a while for the Red Stars to get going, but once they do... oh man.

One thing that this team sometimes struggles with is their occasional over-reliance on Press; their game plan can sometimes boil down to waiting for her to spin some magic, and if she’s having an off-day, everything falls apart. That, uh, was not a problem tonight. She was a constant threat in the forward part of the pitch. In the second half of the game in particular, she continually sent defenders into a desperate scramble or forced Sheridan to pull off some late heroics to keep the score where it was. To say nothing of how she was able to drift past her markers in the box while staying onside. She could’ve had a hat trick tonight. Easy.

Even when Chicago started to fade around the 70th minute, they were still able to put pressure on Sky Blue’s defense while keeping things locked down at the other end of the pitch. Whatever fight remained in Sky Blue was clearly seeping out, like helium in a four-day-old birthday balloon. They managed some decent build-up play, but as the second half wound down it was clear that the home side’s definition of success had shifted from “getting a result” to “wrecking as many Chicago ankles as possible.”

The last 10 minutes looked awfully familiar to Red Stars fans— lock it down in back, waste time whenever possible, repel the impending siege from the opposition. If there’s one thing Chicago knows how to do, it’s defend a one-goal lead. It was a little shaky at times— a slip by a Chicago defender inside the six nearly cost them the lead— but for the most part they did their jobs.

... at least until the stroke of 90’, when Sam Kerr got her head on the end of a long ball from the center of the park and nodded home for the equalizer.

Chicago had four minutes of added time to switch from protecting a lead to scrambling to get it back. In retrospect, it was a tall order. The Red Stars flung themselves bodily at Sheridan’s goal in an attempt to get the win back but just couldn’t find a winner.

The Chicago Red Stars (7W, 4D, 3L, 25pts, 2nd place) are back home— finally— next Saturday when they host Orlando.