Portland Thorns 3 Raso 2’, Sykes 13’, Nadim (PK) 83’
Chicago Red Stars 1 Huerta 71’
If you were looking for a confidence boost in the regular season finale ahead of next weekend’s critical playoff semifinal, you’ll need to look elsewhere.
With seeding and pride on the line, Chicago went into their clash with Portland needing a positive result to ease fears and settle nerves. Instead, the Red Stars rolled over for their hosts, getting outplayed at nearly every term and dropping their last game of the 2017 regular season 3-1.
The expectations heading into kickoff were mixed. On the one hand, it was nice to see Rory Dames looking ahead by playing a B-Team. The Red Stars still had seeding to play for today, and a loss combined with an Orlando win would’ve meant a #4 seed and a date with Shield winners North Carolina. Dames must’ve figured there wasn’t that much of a difference quality-wise between NC and Portland; both teams would pose a massive challenge, and Chicago would benefit from rested starters regardless of the opposition. OTOH, the teamsheet did, at first blush, resemble something of a white flag. Dames was, perhaps, perfectly content to lose this game.
That speculation was fed within the first three minutes, when Michelle Dalton’s shocking brain fart saw her pass the ball directly to Hayley Raso on he edge of the box. The Thorns attacker didn’t hesitate at all and slotted the ball comfortably past Dalton to give the home team an early 1-0 lead.
2' - Wow! If you weren't awake before, you are now as @HayleyRaso puts the @ThornsFC up 1-0 early. #PORvCHI #NWSLonLIFETIME pic.twitter.com/ZAkcooy9GS— NWSL (@NWSL) September 30, 2017
I wish I could tell you that the goal roused Chicago from their slumber. But it didn’t. The Red Stars were firmly on the backfoot, scrambling to stay in the game and keep the scoreline to within one goal. They looked harried and harassed. By the 10th minute it was becoming clear that the Red Stars were going to have to rely on dumb luck more than their own abilities.
By the 13th minute, Portland doubled their lead.
13' - It is now 2-0 for @ThornsFC as @ashsykes91 scores off chance created by none other than @sincy12. #PORvCHI #NWSLonLIFETIME pic.twitter.com/y7A24GLaxh— NWSL (@NWSL) September 30, 2017
It was clear by now that this was going to be a very long day.
I’ll be honest— I pretty much tuned out after the 15th minute. I kept my head up enough to keep writing this recap, but there’s only so many ways I can spin “the Red Stars approached this game in much the same way I approached my sophomore year of high school.”
26' - @ThornsFC's @nadia_nadim unleashes a blast from long range. #PORvCHI #NWSLonLIFETIME pic.twitter.com/4CXZWaBLnh— NWSL (@NWSL) September 30, 2017
46+ - Another dangerous chance by @ThornsFC's @nadia_nadim. #PORvCHI #NWSLonLIFETIME pic.twitter.com/nd9ZaRdcr8— NWSL (@NWSL) September 30, 2017
And at some point in the proceedings, Sam Johnson suffered a head injury and had to be taken out of the game. She was replaced by Dani Colaprico. No one knew what the back line was supposed to look like now. Maybe it didn’t matter.
Chicago’s biggest victory of the first half: not being down 3-0 at halftime.
HALFTIME: 2-0, Portland over Chicago. It doesn't look so bad on paper, but trust, it is.#PORvCHI #NWSL— Hot Time In Old Town (@HotTimeOldTown) September 30, 2017
Portland maintained control in the second half, despite having more or less won he game. For them, the match was about getting people on the scoreboard who were in need of a confidence boost.
57' - @TobinHeath on the attack, nearly gets her first goal of season for @ThornsFC. #PORvCHI #NWSLonLIFETIME pic.twitter.com/HyG2tUVT2y— NWSL (@NWSL) September 30, 2017
It took Chicago until the hour mark to do something interesting or threatening.
60' - Some nice work by the @chicagoredstars in the build up. #PORvCHI #NWSLonLIFETIME pic.twitter.com/A5Nnv98Mbg— NWSL (@NWSL) September 30, 2017
But for the most part, Portland had this game in hand. There didn’t seem to be any way back for Chicago.
So when they DID manage to pull one back in the 70th minute, it was almost as much of a surprise to the team as it was to the rest of us. After Vanessa DiBernardo’s rocket hit the crossbar and bounced out, Sofia Huerta recovered outside the box and angled herself to his a scorcher of a shot herself. This time, the ball hit the sweet spot and Chicago were back within one.
71' - A beautiful strike by @schuerta brings @chicagoredstars back into this game. Now down just 2-1. #PORvCHI #NWSLonLIFETIME pic.twitter.com/ujLSPcd1L7— NWSL (@NWSL) September 30, 2017
So hey, we had a soccer game on our hands.
That pressure is on. pic.twitter.com/n6MDK5aMPb— Chicago Red Stars (@chicagoredstars) September 30, 2017
For a few minutes, at least. In the 82nd minute the referee awarded Portland a penalty. No one knows why. But it doesn’t matter. Nadia Nadim stepped up to the spot and made it 3-1.
83' - @ALLIE_LONG earns the penalty and @nadia_nadim converts it to give @ThornsFC a 3-1 advantage. #PORvCHI #NWSLonLIFETIME pic.twitter.com/En7hUIwWdF— NWSL (@NWSL) September 30, 2017
Whatever late rally Chicago hoped to mount was strangled in the crib. The Red Stars more or less checked out after the PK. And frankly, so did I.
The Chicago Red Stars finish the season with 11 wins, 6 draws, and 7 losses. If Orlando wins their game tonight, they’ll move ahead of Chicago and claim the #3 seed, which means the Red Stars will face North Carolina next Sunday in the NWSL playoff semifinals.