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Buckle Up, Everybody: Chicago Red Stars 1, North Carolina Courage 1, NWSL Game Recap

Chicago takes a point off the Shield winners, and the playoff race is on

Photo courtesy of the Chicago Red Stars

Chicago Red Stars 1 Kerr 64’

North Carolina Courage 1 Debinha 22’

You’ve said it, I’ve said it, we’ve all said it: the last five weeks of the NWSL season are going to be very hard for the Red Stars.

But hey, Chicago took a goddamn point off the North Carolina Courage tonight after 27 days without a league match, and looked positively dangerous in the process. The saving grace of the Red Stars’ troublesome schedule this year is that the team has grown along with every challenge, and while the time off gave the entire squad a fair sheen of rust, they can’t be counted out of the playoff race just yet.

In the lead-up, the starting XI for Friday night didn’t contain anything shocking, though where exactly Julie Ertz was going to line up was destined to define the way the Red Stars tried to control the game. Chicago could play Ertz in the midfield, and leave Sarah Gorden to the mercy of North Carolina’s offense, or put her at center-back and lose a physical presence in the middle of the pitch. Outside of developing the technology to get an Ertz clone on the squad (and don’t think I didn’t suggest that), the Red Stars were going to have to find a combo of their own to combat North Carolina’s strength at midfield.

And despite the work of Morgan Brian and Danny Colaprico to try to contain and possess throughout the first half, the Courage did get the one opportunity that they weren’t going to let pass them by. Crystal Dunn made a run with the ball mid-field, and then dropped the ball off outside to Jessica McDonald. McDonald made it to the end-line, sent a cross in, and Debinha just had to hammer the ball into the back of the net to give North Carolina the lead early.

The Red Stars made it into halftime with just the 1-0 deficit, but it felt like we had seen this kind of movie before. Time after time, teams hold the Courage close for around 50 minutes, the Courage unlock just enough to drop two to four more goals in the second half, and then the rout is on.

But this isn’t last year’s Red Stars (or the year before, or the year before that). This team is talented, and almost more importantly experienced, and the possession they achieved in the final third as the second half progressed looked like a process that had an equal opportunity to equalize as North Carolina did to break the game open.

And this time, Chicago pulled it off. Dibernardo sent a corner kick that was ultimately sent back to her, her impeccable service into the box found Sam Kerr’s head, and suddenly the game was tied. While a draw against the Courage is a result most teams have failed to reach this season, by the end it almost felt like the Red Stars should be disappointed with the draw, which is an energy the team would do well to bottle and disperse throughout the next five games.

Because this stretch is going to be hard, but the team that played tonight deserves a semi-final. The playoffs start now, and Chicago looks ready. It’s too bad that the entire season comes down to the next three games (against Seattle, Portland and Orlando), but also how exciting. It’s good to be back, y’all. Time to finish strong.