Sky Blue FC 1 Dorsey 73’
Chicago Red Stars 3 Kerr 40’, 46’, 63’
Just to start out, this has been a long week.
Chicago handled Washington last weekend, got Courage’d on the Fourth of July, and came into this game with tired legs and a small roster. Even though Sky Blue’s woe’s have been long-documented, this seemed like it could’ve gotten very sloppy and frustrating for the Red Stars, and they could’ve dropped points that they desperately needed.
To be short, the Red Stars needed Sam Kerr. And Sam Kerr needed to have A Game.
Kerr was dealing with a slump that could only be created from her own high standards; the past four games without a goal tied the longest she’d gone without seeing the back of the net since she joined the NWSL. Not necessarily fitting that narrative was three games unbeaten for Chicago in that stretch, but the realities of a new Kerr with a new team are still starting to settle within the league at large.
But boy did she show up tonight. In her first time back at Yurcak Field since leaving Sky Blue in the off-season, she showed her expertise in space along with a deep understanding of how to get behind defenses when allowed time. The first goal was slow coming, based on the action on the field, and Kerr could’ve gotten her first long before the initial breakthrough in the 40th minute, but Kailen Sheridan had a typically strong game in net for the home side, and sometimes the breaks don’t land right away.
However, that first strike opened the floodgates. Landing right before halftime, Alyssa Mautz picked up a free kick from Alyssa Naeher, and dropped it off for Kerr to collect and send into Sky Blue’s net. The momentum would then carry right after the second half whistle, and Kerr got the brace in the 46th, assisted by (who else?) Yuki Nagasato, who got the ball to Kerr from the midfield and the striker made no mistake in front of goal (Her league-lead tying 7th of the year, and her 50th overall - the first to hit that landmark)
Side-note — Sam needs Yuki to be effective. I understand that Nagasato can’t play every minute of every match in a grueling NWSL schedule but it’s a truth that should be acknowledged and considered with every squad that Rory Dames puts out on the field.
The duo did more of the same in the 63rd minute, when Yuki lofted the ball over the Sky Blue defense, Kerr made the right run, and she had her first hat trick of the season, and Chicago’s first ever in the NWSL (That one places her alone in front of goals scored for 2018). This was the Sam Kerr that the Red Stars picked up in January, and it was beautiful.
Sky Blue did get one back late in the match, due to the unfailing work-rate of Imani Dorsey, along with some heads-up play by Carli Lloyd, but it ended up being a consolation strike at best. Chicago’s defense does still need some work to gel after major upheaval, but this squad has solidified its place in the playoff race while maneuvering arguably the most difficult schedule in the NWSL this year. Next weekend will be a new day (and Seattle a tough opponent), but this performance was one to be proud of. Let’s keep it going.