Houston Dash 1 Keever 38’
Chicago Red Stars 1 Comeau 90’
Well, that was quite the game! After 90 minutes of the Chicago Red Stars looking like their destiny was to fall to the Houston Dash in NWSL season openers until the end of time, Taylor Comeau headed home a Danny Colaprico corner kick to snatch a draw out of the jaws of defeat, finishing the match 1-1.
Everyone following this offseason had an idea that this was gonna be something of a weird one, with Chicago missing a good core of it’s starting lineup due to injuries and international duty, and Houston posting starting lineups like, well, this one.
But no one maybe anticipated the tactical discrepancies for both squads as they tried to assert their authority in the opening match. Dash head coach Vera Pauw had emphasized Houston’s new pressing formation and tight defensive configuration, indicating that the Dash were going to fight for every available advantage. And the Red Stars recently brought in a more comprehensive assistant coaching staff to try to make their solid-but-not-flashy midfield work work in a more cohesive fashion.
To put it bluntly, one of these strategies played out more according to plan than the other. While Chicago attempted to play quick one-touch soccer in the midfield, the inexperience of the team’s depth showed itself in questionable passing and lack of urgency on the ball that caused the Red Stars to flounder every time they got anywhere close to their oppositions half. Houston, to their credit, had more success with the basic execution of their game-plan, and their consistent pressure won them the lead in the 39th minute of the match when rookie Kimberly Keever got on the end of a good assist from Savannah Jordan to beat Alyssa Naeher near post.
The second half looked like it was more of the same from the Red Stars, though the insertion of Sarah Gorden to allow Arin Gilliland to push further forward with more abandon gave Chicago some hope that they could find the equalizer. However, most of the leadership on the field had quiet games when they needed to make their presence known (Sofia Huerta was pretty much invisible for much of the match).
But despite all odds the last few moments of the match led to a true Chicago unicorn: a set-piece goal. Colaprico sent in a solid corner, the Dash made some questionable decisions in attempting to clear, and Comeau hit a thundering header to make the trip back up north a much happier one for the visitors.
Going forward, the MO for the Red Stars (0-0-1) has to be all about staying healthy and stealing points while they can until they get to full strength. Getting out of this match with a point is a certain moral victory, but the quality of play has to improve if Chicago is going to be able to compete against the stronger talent in this league. Their next match is their home Doubleheader with the Fire, taking on the Portland Thorns on March 31st (a team that looks like it has its own struggles). The Red Stars will match up physically pretty okay with the Thorns, so here’s to another bruiser where we grind out a result.