Orlando Pride 1 Morgan 65’
Chicago Red Stars 3 Kerr 44’ 59’, Dibernardo 45+’
In my recap of the Red Stars’ most recent match against the Portland Thorns last Saturday, I spoke a bit about wanting Chicago to turn the run of inspiring draws against the top three teams in the NWSL into one conclusive win. And tonight against the Orlando Pride, the Red Stars were as close to a must-win scenario as they’ve ever seen in the regular season so far in the history of the league.
That being said, Orlando is not playing like a top team in the NWSL right now. Going into the match, I had some anxiety that I would be watching the Red Stars let opportunities slip out of their grasp on their way to another draw. But from minute one (or eight, depending on how you feel about weather delays), the Pride never really showed up. It’s perhaps too far and away for me to speculate from my perch in West Town on what went wrong with Orlando’s season, but this wasn’t the scary matchup I was anticipating in the buildup to this weekend.
However, when the first half was coming to a close without a Red Stars goal, I did get a bit concerned that the quality of play that we saw throughout the first 45 minutes wouldn’t convert into the finished chances that were going to theoretically need to make the difference in an elimination game for the opposition.
But the joke’s on me, and Sam Kerr is the best striker in the world right now (fight me!!). Right before the conclusion of the first half, Kerr got one more of many chances to drop in one-on-one against Ashlyn Harris (who individually had a quality game). After almost half a game of frustration, Kerr pulled out a classic goal from within her oeuvre. Danny Colaprico built up play in the midfield, and sent a really good ball in to Yuki Nagasato, who directed it into Kerr’s path. After multiple previous chances that couldn’t find the proper balance from the feet of the striker, Kerr got a moment to shift her position over on to her right foot, shot far post, and couldn’t miss.
After the first goal, a lethargic Orlando team couldn’t find a way to respond, and the Red Stars doubled the lead in possibly the nicest offensive sequence Chicago has had all season. Morgan Brian, who is quietly building up her club resume with performances that indicate her long-term quality, sent a beautifully weighted ball to Sam Kerr on the right-side end-line. Kerr dropped the ball back to Vanessa Dibernardo’s run into the box that the midfielder confidently struck home, and suddenly the Red Stars were up 2-0 at the halftime break.
And honestly? That felt fair. The Pride were giving Chicago tons of space in the middle of the field, Orlando’s offense couldn’t be bothered to make real runs into the box, and the Red Stars both individually and as a squad looked more organized and ambitious than the home team. And yet, the fear the hangover of a dropped result in Portland sat over the proceedings in a way that couldn’t be ignored. Fortunately, Kerr’s second goal came pretty swiftly.
In the 59th minute, Alanna Kennedy tried to dribble through her own box to get the ball out of danger, but Kerr jumped in to body her off the ball, lined up a shot, and calmly put the Red Stars up with a half hour left in the match.
But unfortunately, Chicago doesn’t do ‘calm’ particularly well, especially when they’re holding a lead. With the three-goal difference bolstering some mental gaps, Marta found a way through the Red Stars defense in the 65th minute to send a good cross in to Alex Morgan’s head, and the finish was the kind of quality that one would expect from one the USWNT’s top talents.
In the ten minutes after the Orlando goal was scored, the Red Stars looked like they could lose their handle on the flow of the match. But Chicago played smart, controlled enough of the possession, and looked like a team that knew that their work was done. Again, this maybe came down more to Orlando’s lack of grit in the final minutes of the match, but the result was set long before the final whistle blew.
All Chicago has to do now to make the post-season official is get just one point from either their upcoming game against Sky Blue, or their regular season finale against the Utah Royals. Gonna say this here first: This is the best Chicago Red Stars team we’ve ever seen, and heaven help the team that plays them in the post-season.
The Chicago Red Stars (8W 10D 4L, 34pts, 4th in the NWSL standings) continue their sprint to the postseason on September 4th when they host Sky Blue FC.