The Chicago Red Stars got some important pieces back on Saturday evening, but they could only manage a 1-1 draw against the Washington Spirit, with most of the important action coming in the first half.
The Spirit have always provided an intriguing matchup against Chicago, even with a much-altered roster this year, and the match didn’t exactly start off with the Red Stars’ finest moment. In the fourth minute a lack of defensive discipline allowed Mallory Pugh (who has developed into a magnificently dangerous player for Washington) to slip in behind the Chicago defense in space, and carry the ball to the end line. She then sent in a dagger of a cross that Francisca Ordega slid in to put the home side up 1-0.
However, Chicago didn’t let that push too far off their game, and after slowly working their way back into some significant possession, the Red Stars found their equalizer in the 20th after Sam Kerr (finally back from international duty!!) crashed her way onto a Taylor Comeau cross. Washington keeper Aubrey Bledsoe kept Kerr from getting a strike, but the ball dribbled out to Alyssa Mautz who tapped it in to square up the scoreline 1-1.
After the initial flurry of activity, the game settled into a contest that was mostly fought in the midfield. Danny Colaprico had something of a match to forget, having trouble dealing with the Spirit’s physical play in a controlled manner, and Sam Johnson had a great header stolen from the jaws of the back of the net by a stellar save from Bledsoe (who got a bloody lip for her trouble).
In general, Chicago had a strong match, but one that ended without the Red Stars finding ways to work Kerr into their strategy particularly dangerously. It being her first match back, the minor trepidation makes some sense, though obviously the Red Stars are going to have to figure out how to get Kerr and Yuki Nagasato working together up top in a meaningful way. Colaprico is also going to have to get used to having Julie Ertz beside her again, when the star midfielder made her return late in the game.
After the match, Red Stars head coach Rory Dames praised Kerr’s work-rate, but understood that chemistry isn’t something that’s going to come immediately, acknowledging that “every time we get somebody back it’s gonna be like going through pre-season for us. (...) We’re going to be a work in progress for quite a while”. (Check out the full audio below)
Kerr echoed some of Dames’ comments, saying she was excited to finally get on the pitch in official competition with Chicago, but admitting that club and international play don’t always have the same pace (Kerr was one of the few internationals to come back and play a full 90 for club).
But while getting significant minutes with Chicago involved having a few forgettable moments, Kerr seems focused on her new chapter with her new club. “My goal is a team goal. Win the championship. Simple as that.” Chicago didn’t quite get the mic drop against Washington on Saturday night that they’ll be looking for as the 2018 season progresses, but they’ve got some stars back and hungry to get all the kinks worked out. They’ll have a chance to do just that on Wednesday at home against the Orlando Pride, before traveling to face league leaders the North Carolina Courage the following Sunday.