Reign FC 1 Fishlock 81’
I’m not sure what to make of this one.
Chicago came into their match against Reign FC on a two-game losing skid. The first loss, against the Washington Spirit, was one of early bad luck and a late-game stretched performance. The second, against Portland, was also one of bad luck (in that they got thrown into that particular game at all), and a frantic sense of possession.
This third loss, after a three-week World Cup break, was a bit more of the former, and continued Chicago’s stretch of abysmal luck in front of goal. It’s no one players fault that the Red Stars can’t buy a goal, but it’s the collective passing-off of the final shot that finds promising attacks falling short.
The Reign really didn’t look all that great for much of this game, with a sluggish start and a roster that has been almost fully depleted due to injury and international absences. But they do have Jess Fishlock, and she’s an anomaly in this current period of the NWSL season. She’s tenacious, commanding, and experienced, and she ended up being the whole difference in a match that looked destined for a scoreless draw until the 80th minute.
But gone are the days where the Red Stars found a way to crash, burn, and scam a way to a point. They’ve turned into a team that has lived and died within their style of play, and the refusal to lose has taken a backseat.
It really feels like, in this moment, the Red Stars are dealing with something new and yet altogether familiar. Chicago’s star striker is out of a major tournament, having missed a penalty in a game that was not of her own making, and she now floats in the space in between World Cup glory and her club return. And the team is struggling without her. The Red Stars are made up of a lot of very good soccer players, who have developed a healthy, sustainable locker room structure and a solid identity. But this group? They aren’t world-beaters. They played some good soccer today, and no one picked up the baton to get Chicago the points they needed.
This is a problem for now, but it’s also a problem for later. We were reminded again this week that the rest of the world wants a piece of Sam Kerr, and that pull isn’t one that she’s going to be able to ward off forever. This week also highlighted how in knockout stages, somebody loses. I’m worried that when it comes down to the line, even if Chicago starts firing and makes their way back where they need to be in the standings, that this group - that everyone thought would be the water carriers throughout this period - will be the ones that still can’t quite get over that final hill.
The story of that final hurdle, a Chicago NWSL semifinal win, has also been one of mentality and a little bit of bad luck. Sometimes the Red Stars came up against a machine they couldn’t temper, sometimes they themselves got a bit unlucky, but in a knockout scenario, the unwillingness to lose never fully arrived.
I crowed in the early season about Chicago’s new sense of form, the beautiful soccer that they were playing, and the impressive wins they were picking up. As we’ve seen so far, this also results in losses, and a team that’s content to play within their own structure without taking care of the little things. Casey Short got involved in the attack frequently on Sunday evening, being the presence Chicago needed until she got worked by Ifeoma Onumonu. Sarah Gorden kept her recovery runs alive in a dominant display until Jess Fishlock used her own body weight against her and turned her into oblivion. You can feel the Red Stars being bolstered by the good stuff, but they can’t be content to lose beautifully.
But, as I’ve lamented, they really did look quite good for a lot of this match! Danny Colaprico did well to contain Fishlock for long stretches, and the Red Stars’ newest pickup, Savannah McCaskill, showed flashes of the ability to be the game-changer Chicago needs so desperately. She showed her ability to connect within partnerships that are only days old, but more importantly: she looked hungry for a goal. There has to be a need and an audacity to take that final shot, not just pinging the ball around the box, and McCaskill is only going to improve with more time with the club.
Chicago has a chance to reset against Orlando next week, in a game with an extra set of stakes, and the Red Stars (forgive me) are going to have to learn how to elevate. Because windows close, and Sam Kerr deserves a win.
The Chicago Red Stars (3W 2D 4L, 9pts, 7th place) are back at it next Sunday on the road when they take on the Orlando Pride.