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Draining The Swamp: Orlando Pride 1, Chicago Red Stars 1, NWSL game recap

The Red Stars go undefeated against Orlando in 2017 with a tough but well-earned draw on the road

Photo via NWSL

Orlando Pride 1 Morgan 24’

Chicago Red Stars 1 Huerta 53’

I’ll admit that I had some conflicting emotions when I saw the teamsheet. With several Red Stars players having seen minutes just 48 hours ago with the USWNT, the smart and sensible thing to do would’ve been to rest some people. Which is what Rory Dames did. Only Alyssa Naeher was back in the team for the trip to Orlando.

Still. Seeing a Red Stars lineup without Christen Press, Julie Ertz, or Casey Short gave me a real jolt of terror. Especially when Orlando sent out Alex Morgan and Ali Krieger. In the run-up to the game, this, to me, had all the hallmarks of a disaster in waiting.

But the Red Stars somehow, somehow, found a way to hang in there. With key players off the teamsheet and dealing with fatigue and oppressive Florida summer weather, Chicago secured a well-earned draw to leave Orlando with a point and keep pace at the top of the NWSL table.

I don’t know if it’s the summer heat, or player fatigue, or just a side effect of Damesian football, but Red Stars games seem to start out interminably slow. Through 20 minutes there were few real chances and a marked lack of urgency from both sets of players. Usually how this goes is, Chicago defends well through most of the first half and then, right before halftime or within the opening minutes of the second half, they get a goal to give themselves some solid ground.

Not today. The consequences of resting key players were felt relatively early when Morgan collected a long ball from Jasmyne Spence and slotted it inside the far post.

Minutes before the goal, Marta came on as a substitute to replace the injured Rachel Hill. Orlando was up a goal and made a distinct quality advantage— and it hadn’t even been 30 minutes yet.

Chicago, trying not to panic, went into Tortoise And The Hare mode. They started focusing on patient build-up play, hoping to wait their hosts out and capitalize on a mistake. It... wasn’t super effective? To be honest? Orlando continued to dominate the first half, and Jamia Fields nearly made it 2-0 in the 37th with a powerful strike from outside the box, blocked by merciful fate.

The Pride came close again just two minutes later when Morgan shot from the edge of the box and forced Naeher into a leaping save.

The Red Stars are accustomed to spending the latter parts of games under siege. Surviving attacks this relentless and this lethal midway through the first half was, perhaps, a tall order.

When they weren’t hanging on for dear life, there were moments of promising interplay between Sofia Huerta and Jen Hoy, a wholly underrated strike partnership that often lays fallow due to Christen Press. They managed to put together some threatening attacks, including one in the last few minutes of the half that nearly produced an equalizer.

But Chicago couldn’t sort themselves out in the first half, and they went into the tunnel at halftime down a goal and with no clear path forward.

The second half started with the Sarah Gorden As A Starter Experiment coming to an abrupt end, with the erstwhile outside back replaced by Steph McCaffrey. Chicago were looking to show their fangs.

Orlando continued where they left off— controlling the ball, dictating terms. But the Red Stars looked just a little sharper in their strides, moving with a bit more urgency. They were building toward something.

It didn’t take long for them to get back on script. In the 53rd minute, Hoy played Huerta through and the burgeoning US international hit a gorgeous curling shot from the top of the box and sailed into the upper 90.

Chicago didn’t exactly take over the game after the goal, but it seemed a more even contest. Steph McCaffrey nearly took the lead just after the hour mark with a strong strike from outside the box, forcing Audrey Bledsoe into a save. After 10-ish minutes of feisty back-and-forth play, the Red Stars almost went out ahead again when Huerta hit a daisycutter that rolled right at Bledsoe.

Fatigue and a slick surface aside, Chicago did a decent job keeping pressure on Orlando. They kept their side of the midfield locked down, and when the Pride got forward they found themselves unable to capitalize. Meanwhile, Huerta made herself a menace for the Pride’s defenders (and for Bledsoe). Between her and Hoy and McCaffrey, the Red Stars looked downright frightening at times.

(That said— Orlando still had Morgan and Marta. Counting them out at this stage would be a mistake.)

Indeed, between a near-miss from Marta in the 82nd minute and a worrying goalmouth scramble in the 87th, Chicago had plenty of reason for concern.

By this point the Red Stars had retreated back into siege defense mode. Orlando won corner after corner in stoppage time, carpetbombing Naeher’s goal in desperation for a game winner. With five minutes of added time, the hosts had plenty of time to push for that goal.

But, as they often do, Chicago held on. It wasn’t entirely what they needed tonight, but it was a well-earned point.

The Chicago Red Stars (8-3-5, 29pts, 1st place) return home next Saturday when they host the Portland Thorns at Toyota Park.