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The End is the Beginning is the End: Chicago Red Stars 5, Sky Blue FC 0, NWSL Game Recap

No time for looking back now, the Red Stars have bought themselves a semi-final

Photo via Chicago Red Stars

Chicago Red Stars 5 Mautz 18’ 46’, Kerr 64’, White 81’, Vasconcelos 90+7’

Sky Blue FC 0

We all probably knew this was coming, but it feels good to say: the Chicago Red Stars are going to the 2018 NWSL playoffs, signed with with an emphatic 5-0 dismantling of an exhausted and hapless Sky Blue FC.

Tonight’s game stood out for weeks as an oddity that neither team particularly wanted to play, but both were eager to get over with. Chicago wanted a post-season spot taken care of with one game left in the season, and Sky Blue would probably just prefer this season to be over, please.

It’s far outside the nature of anyone following the NWSL to be truly convinced of a result before a game is played, but Sky Blue was never going to win this game (they’ve never gotten a win against the Red Stars in the six years of the NWSL’s existence). They probably weren’t going to be competitive even if they hadn’t played a match against the Washington Spirit a little over 48 hours before kickoff at Toyota Park, but they certainly had no chance after the league dictated they make a two-day turnaround to fit tonight’s already re-scheduled game into the rapidly shortening regular season.

So while within the context of Chicago’s entire season the result felt resounding and satisfying, this was a very hard game to watch. Sky Blue’s roster was depleted and tired, and no amount of effort was going to stop the Red Stars from firmly clinching their playoff spot.

Working without their USWNT players, but with Sam Kerr, the starting lineup made the shifts one could have reasonably expected. Brooke Elby slotted in at right back, with Arin Gilliland taking left back duties. Nikki Stanton filled into the center-midfield, and Sarah Gorden took over at center-back. And Emily Boyd finally got her home debut between the sticks.

And while most of Chicago’s adjustments were in the defense, it was those players that actually led to many of the Red Stars’ offensive opportunities. Let’s break down the plethora of goal-scoring efforts. In the 17th minute, Gilliland sent a lofting ball into the box, aiming for the far post. Alyssa Mautz was floating in space, and headed the ball over the hands of Sky Blue goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan to give the Red Stars the early lead.

Chicago wouldn’t score again until the 46th minute (should we be worried about that? It’s hard to tell), when Mautz would again find herself on the end of service from Gilliland, earning a brace on the night. This time Mautz would score with her feet, with a sliding volley again at the Sky Blue far post.

After the second goal, the floodgates would open. In the 64th minute, Brooke Elby, who had a very solid evening filling in at outside back, sent a good ball into the Sky Blue box, that Sam Kerr directed into a point-black header that Sheridan couldn’t ultimately defend, earning the striker her 15th goal of the season, all but assuredly earning her the NWSL Golden Boot for the second year in a row. 3-0 Red Stars.

In the 80th minute, when everyone watching the match was likely praying for a swift end to Sky Blue’s torture, Sam Kerr directed another ball from Gilliland towards the feet of Rosie White, who got her first goal for Chicago and put the Red Stars up 4-0 with ten minutes and stoppage to go.

And finally, after a wholly unnecessary seven whole minutes of stoppage time (seriously ref, read the room), Michele Vasconcelos finished a 1v1, dashing her finishing demons and winning the Red Stars the final scoreline of 5-0. Cue the saddest playoff air-horn sample you’ve ever heard.

Because while I don’t think anyone felt good about this game, or felt that Sky Blue got a fair shot at a competitive match, no one could argue with the result. The Red Stars have been playing incredibly well since the beginning of July, and they deserve to duke it out with the other top four NWSL squads in the post-season. And tonight they diversified their goal-scoring core, made it through without injury, and showcased some secret depth that the team hasn’t needed to use since before the last international break.

Chicago went through the whole month of May without a win, and they also haven’t lost a game since the Fourth of July. Tonight was one to celebrate, and to lock away in respect of the work to be done. So let’s do work.

The Chicago Red Stars (9W 10D 4L, 37pts, 4th in the NWSL standings) finish the regular season on Saturday when they head west to take on Utah.