Chicago Red Stars 3 (Short 13’, Nagasato 53’, Elby 89’)
Reign FC 0
After snowy shenanigans forced the Red Stars’ first match against Reign FC to be postponed to Sunday afternoon, the Red Stars put together a complete performance that saw them handle business 3-0. Chicago and the Reign have gone back and forth with results over the years, usually in low-scoring affairs, but Chicago’s new-look offensive firepower made strides with the defense putting together a much-needed clean sheet.
The XI held few surprises (considering we saw it on Saturday before the match was pushed back), but Tierna Davidson did end up lining up at left back with Sarah Gorden sitting inside at left center-back. Davidson has seen some time on the outside with the USWNT this year, and Gorden is versatile throughout the back-line, but this seemed like a move that played less to each players strengths and added a new wrinkle in the defensive setup. It was a process to see how each player would adapt in new roles.
To start, Chicago struggled to break the Reign’s midfield press for many of the early stages, but the Reign’s finishing issues that have plagued them for much of the season bailed the Red Stars out on a few occasions. Another factor in the first half, unsurprisingly, was Chicago having to play against the wind, finding similar issues with defensive cohesion in the same area in front of goal where they also struggled against Portland. However, unlike the Thorns, the Reign had no answers up top, and couldn’t find a way to benefit from their run of play through the middle of the field.
While stout in central defense, the Reign left the flanks exposed for much of the match, and while Davidson was probably never going to make them pay for that space, Casey Short definitely did. In the 13th minute, Yuki Nagasato found Short in space on the right side of the field, and the defender sent a beautiful chip in over Lydia Williams to put the Red Stars up 1-0. The opening goal was indicative of the trouble the Reign were having in tracking back and defending on the outside, which undermined the quality work Lauren Barnes and Williams were doing to keep Sam Kerr contained.
In the second half, the issues Chicago were having in the back smoothed over, while the Reign’s rough edges got more jagged. The Red Stars doubled the scoreline in the 53rd minute when a blocked Kerr shot (Williams really did have a strong game) fell to Nagasato, who chipped the keeper and got her third goal in two games.
With Chicago firmly ahead, the Reign pushed Allie Long further up, and subbed a struggling Jodie Taylor, but they also continued to fade down the stretch. For the Red Stars, the second half substitutes balled out once again, with Brooke Elby icing the match in the 89th minute off a nice pass from Michele Vasconcelos, who is having a really nice start to her 2019 season. Eventually, the Reign looked completely out of answers, and the Red Stars strolled to the 3-0 win.
It was almost surprising to see Chicago beat the Reign so thoroughly by multiple goals, but that perhaps personifies the different stages these two teams are in. The Red Stars are getting healthy, getting contributions from the full squad, and developing a style of play much more sophisticated than in the past. The Reign are still dealing with injuries, struggling to feel comfortable in front of goal, and their depth isn’t getting it done. It’s still early days, but one has to wonder if the ground is shifting a bit in the top four of the table, and it’ll be interesting to see if the Reign can turn things around.
But for now, the Red Stars have gotten through three games against every 2018 post-season compatriot unbeaten, and have played some beautiful soccer in weird conditions. A new, World Cup shaped stage of the season begins in Utah on Friday, but with all cylinders firing in Chicago, the Red Stars have to like their chances.