Chicago Red Stars 2 Short 34’, Nagasato 60’
Washington Spirit 0
If you look at the 2018 iterations of both of these squads, the Chicago Red Stars should take three points from the Washington Spirit every time, and it shouldn’t be close. But in a week when many contenders for the top 4 of the NWSL table found ways to leave points on the field, you’d be forgiven for going into this one a little bit concerned about the Red Stars’ ability to take care of business.
Despite any worry going in (about the quality of play or even the scorching weather), Chicago controlled the match against Washington with ease, and walked through much of the game without many issues, resulting in a quality 2-0 win. Much of that could be attested to the hapless game-plan of the Spirit, who are watching their season slip away from them with every passing match, but the Red Stars impact players clearly came to get the job done.
The two goals came from some of the usual suspects you might expect to make a difference in a game like this one, and the pressure the team built could have easily resulted in a few more completed chances than the final scoreline alluded to. Casey Short got on the board for the first time this season, getting a header on frame in the 34th minute after a Chicago corner that snuck through the Washington defense (particularly Ashley Hatch, who really should have had the play locked up guarding the near post) and got the Red Stars in the lead 1-0.
After the first goal, the Red Stars took their collective foot off the gas pedal for much of the rest of the half, and almost let the Spirit work their way back into a more level run of possession, but the 1-0 scoreline would hold until after halftime.
After the half, in the 58th minute, Michele Vasconcelos (who had a very active game in general) made a great run behind a huge gap in the Washington defense through the midfield, and dropped the ball off to Sam Kerr on the left side. Kerr then had options running into the box in Vasconcelos herself and Yuki Nagasato patrolling a little bit further behind. Kerr decided to send the ball into Yuki, who made a ridiculous diving header to firmly send the ball past Spirit keeper Aubrey Bledsoe and into the back of the net to double the Red Stars lead.
After the second goal, it looked like Washington might fold completely, and allow a third strike from Chicago to slip through their fingers, but the Red Stars couldn’t quite break through to put a final exclamation on the performance. Regardless, the win put Chicago back in playoff position, leapfrogging Utah and Portland, and only sitting behind North Carolina, Seattle, and Orlando.
The numbers game rolling into the end of the season is going to require teams to pick up as many points as possible against teams that they outmatch (as there aren’t that many that qualify considering how crowded the middle of the table is). This was a great step in that direction for Chicago, and the partnerships the team has been growing throughout the season are now resulting in wins that would have maybe been draws a few weeks ago. Chicago has a huge Fourth of July matchup ahead against league leaders North Carolina, but the Red Stars have to feel good about how they line up against their greatest rivals for a post-season slot in a deeply competitive year.