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Just Stand and Wave: Chicago Red Stars 2, Orlando Pride 5, NWSL Game Recap

In the wake of the Red Stars’ biggest loss in franchise history, are we nearing a breaking point?

Chicago Red Stars 2 Kerr 21’, 60’

Orlando Pride 5 Hill 2’, Morgan 6’, Leroux 62’ 64’, Weatherholt 83’

With every passing match, it is getting more and more difficult to rationalize the trajectory of this Chicago Red Stars 2018 season. They’ve built a deeply competitive roster, acquired one of the best strikers currently in form, have the USA #1 goalkeeper in the back and an infrastructure that supports the team in improving. They’ve also had some tough breaks in regard to injuries, but all of those listed elements have to add up to more consistency than the Red Stars are showing right now.

Similarly, if on a smaller scale, it’s challenging to describe exactly what happened to the Red Stars in this game. They came into the match on a 6-game winless streak (to be fair, 5 of those were draws), but were facing an Orlando team on short rest, and the proposed starting lineup leaned towards what I’ve considered to be Chicago’s most competitive formation so far this year.

But in the first ten minutes of the match, Chicago was caught sleepwalking twice. In just the second minute, Ali Krieger sent a ball into the box for Rachel Hill, who beat her defender and keeper Alyssa Naeher (who looked like she maybe tripped? She should have been all over that ball) to put the Pride up 1-0 early. Just four minutes later, Marta and Alex Morgan would double the tally, when the Brazilian star whipped in a ball that the unmarked Morgan headed into the back of the net. The second goal was less of a howler than the first, but Sam Johnson lost Morgan behind her, and in general Orlando was working with an amount of space in Chicago’s defensive third that was begging to be exploited.

Things calmed down a little bit from there, and in the 21st minute Yuki Nagasato showed why she should be starting up top with Sam Kerr every single game the Red Stars play. Kerr got herself behind the Orlando defense, but couldn’t get the ball past Pride keeper Ashlyn Harris 1v1. The ball was cleared, but only to Nagasato at the top of the box, who calm-as-you-please brought it down, initiated a give-and-go with Michele Vasconcelos, and sent the ball in the air for Kerr to head into goal. The half would end with the 2-1 scoreline.

As the game progressed, things went a little off the rails. Yuki and Kerr served up an equalizer in the 60th minute with a simple ball splitting the defense and a very well placed far-post shot, but then Chicago’s switch turned completely off again.

Two minutes after the equalizer, Krieger sent another good ball into the box, and Sydney Leroux was there to beat Naeher again at the near post — Naeher had an awful time covering that part of her goal on Saturday. Two minutes after that, Leroux got a great ball from Morgan across the face of goal, that she was able to turn and rocket into Chicago’s upper 90, putting the Pride quickly up 4-2.

Probably due to both physical and mental fatigue, the final goal in the match looked like Chicago had simply conceded. In the 83rd minute, Morgan found Dani Weatherholt completely unmarked in the box where she, again, hit the ball near post past Naeher to drop the fifth tally against the Red Stars in the match, ultimately ending 5-2.

The game really wasn’t without positives, it’d be impossible to have Sam Kerr record her first brace for the club and have that be the case, but any improvements were far outweighed by a performance that got picked apart by a tough but beatable Orlando team. Vasconcelos shows spark and good ideas, but her confidence on the ball, particularly when finishing, simply isn’t there yet. Yuki and Kerr continued to build their rapport, but they aren’t being played together consistently. Julie Ertz got some quality time in the midfield, but she’s looked about as tentative as she ever has since coming back from a knee sprain that sidelined her for most of the spring.

At this point, we have to accept that Alyssa Naeher is going to have good and bad games, and the team can’t simply rely on her to bail them out against the top attackers in the league. What’s more troubling is that we’re running out of ways to figure out what exactly is going wrong.

The Red Stars will look to bounce back, whatever exactly that means, against the Washington Spirit on Saturday, June 2nd. Come with a plan, execute it, no excuses.