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What Stronger Means: North Carolina Courage 4, Chicago Red Stars 0, NWSL Game Recap

That didn’t go as planned

North Carolina Courage 4 Debinha 4’, McDonald 26’, Dunn 45’+5, Mewis 61’

Chicago Red Stars 0

Ok, let’s process this.

The Chicago Red Stars lost to the North Carolina Courage by a lot of goals on Sunday, losing the 2019 NWSL championship game 4-0.

Tierna Davidson’s injury early in the week likely meant that Chicago was going to come out in a basic 4-3-3, trying to push North Carolina into progressing the ball on the wings. They were going to defend as much as possible, and take their shots when they could.

But North Carolina was ready to go, and the Red Stars - outside of Julie Ertz, who had a hell of a game - were not. It was odd to watch this team experience something completely new throughout this weekend, going through media day and open trainings and press conferences for the first time. They knew there was going to be added pressure, and they understood the extra commitments, but what we saw on the field was a team that hadn’t quite reckoned with what this moment meant until they got there.

And North Carolina doesn’t need any encouragement; they’ll run you over just for fun. The first 20 minutes of the game was a period of time that the Red Stars let get completely out of hand, and they quickly found themselves in a 1-0 hole. They looked a little nervous, not holding possession particularly well and giving the Courage a lot of space on the counter-attack.

So in the 4th minute, Debinha puts the hosts up 1-0. In the 26th minute, Jessica McDonald doubles that.

It was hot and humid on Sunday, and the Red Stars couldn’t adjust once the game started getting out of their control. However, they almost held it together long enough to get out of the first half with a 2-0 scoreline. The midfield struggled to find Sam Kerr all game, but she still had a certain number of opportunities to drag the Red Stars back into the competition. They were doing just enough, until the very end of the half.

The third goal, scored by Crystal Dunn in first half stoppage time, was a mixture of miscommunication by Chicago’s defense and pure grit from the Courage forward. That was ultimately the killer blow of the match, and it was hard to see the Red Stars surviving the rest of the game without it getting much worse.

And it did get a little bit worse, with the final goal of the match coming from Sam Mewis in the 61st minute, but it also got a little bit better. The Red Stars regrouped at the half, and played with a lot more intensity of purpose after the second whistle. We’ve seen what North Carolina can do to teams on their best days, and Chicago didn’t let the scoreline reach astronomical numbers. It was a terrible game, but the Red Stars came back out to stop the bleeding and fight for each other. On a dark day, that’s something to be proud of.

So I think this is now the part where I’m supposed to tell you that everything is going to be ok.

I don’t think I can guarantee that, in this particular moment, at the end of this incredible year. It’d be a disservice, quite honestly, to what this specific team achieved. They scored the most goals in Red Stars history. They now hold the club’s longest winning streak at six straight games. They were absolutely the second best team in the whole league, which is an achievement that is deeply underrated. Nothing that happened on Sunday changes any of those wonderful things.

But this is not how the Chicago Red Stars wanted this season to end. And, despite all assurances, they have absolutely no idea what happens next. None of us do.

But the Chicago support was in full force on Sunday, and never stopped singing. The fans that came down for this game reminded everyone that what the Red Stars accomplished this year is actually bigger than all the gains they made on the field. They built a relationship to their fanbase that they’ve never quite had before, and that’s what you build the future on.

And institutional memory is greater than any one player, coach or staff member, and now Chicago has done this before. It was through their loss in the semifinal last year that they built a team that wins or loses games, and that took them farther than they’d ever been.

The club will be back stronger for this experience, without any doubt, but we don’t know yet exactly what that looks like. I have faith it’s going to be something better, but even if not, we’re Chicago and we’ll never stop singing.