Well, that was satisfying! Not four games after meeting the Houston Dash in the 2018 season opener that ended in a last-ditch draw that left supporters with questions, the Chicago Red Stars wasted no time in showing how far they’d come in the early going, stomping the Dash 3-0 in the middle of a Chicago sleet-storm.
The hostile spring weather rendered Toyota Park into something of a Fortress of Pain for the visiting Dash, proving them foolish in coming to play in these conditions in the first place, with whipping winds forcing passes close to the ground, heavily favoring Chicago’s updated 4-3-3 play that builds up from the back. The setting gave the Red Stars a chance to showcase the changes they’ve made in the offseason, as their patented long-ball style would be relatively futile in such hostile conditions.
One wouldn’t be faulted for anticipating a slow start to a match like this one, but Chicago flipped the script (#SCAMGANG) in just the 7th minute, when Sarah Gorden (in a well-earned start) beat the Dash’s Rachel Daly to the left end-line, and sent in a cross that was mis-cleared by Kristie Mewis into her own net.
After shaking the Houston defense so early, it almost felt like an inevitable occurrence when just four minutes later another quality ball into the box from Gorden fell to Sofia Huerta, who has been great so far this season. Huerta sent the ball towards the goal, but it was half-cleared by Dash keeper Jane Campbell. After that it was an all-Chicago footrace between Huerta and Lauren Kaskie (in just her fourth NWSL start), who got to the final tap-in deflected off Campbell to put the Red Stars up 2-0.
With the wild early lead established, play tapered off a bit as the match progressed. Houston found ways to test Alyssa Naeher from distance, but never enough to force any hint of error from the Chicago keeper - Houston would ultimately end the match with 10 shots, none of which were on goal. With the Dash committed to a more open style of play, and Chicago taking their collective foot off the gas, the 2-0 scoreline held through half-time.
In fact, it wasn’t until the 75th minute that the Red Stars really put the match to bed with a magnificent flying ball sent into the box from Danny Colaprico, who has been having herself a very fun run of form, that Huerta thunderously headed home to seal the evening 3-0. Gutting out the game, Sam Johnson caught a late yellow card in stoppage time (Chicago is going to have to keep an eye on the accumulation of those; they can’t afford to have yet another player sitting out right now), but Chicago came out the solid victors.
This match showed what a little momentum can do for a team with a plan, and how possession can turn into productivity. Chicago continues their quick turnaround with another game at the Fortress of Pain in Bridgeview on Saturday against Sky Blue FC.