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If I Had Words: Houston Dash 0, Chicago Red Stars 1, NWSL Game Recap

The Red Stars make a day of it

Courtesy of the NWSL

Houston Dash 0

Chicago Red Stars 1 Johnson 7’

I’m running out of things to say.

This game, played on Saturday night against the Houston Dash, the Chicago Red Stars won. They earned three points, even with Danny Colaprico on the bench for a full 90 minutes. Katie Naughton had her best match defensively in weeks, Sarah Gorden held firm in the center of the defense, and Nikki Stanton saw out a period that needed her not to get that last yellow card til the very last game before Chicago’s U.S. Women’s National Players returned. All of these scenarios were necessary, and they played out successfully.

And yet the match felt disconcertingly like more of the same.

I am not an expert on the Houston Dash, and I don’t know why things are going so wrong for them, despite what we hear of a new locker room harmony that was missing from last year. But in criticizing Chicago’s performance tonight, I feel like I must also look at Houston’s. Because the Red Stars didn’t look much better than we’ve seen for this entire World Cup period, and yet they just happened to win this game.

The issues in the midfield persisted, with Stanton and DiBernardo having trouble connecting with Savannah McCaskill, and the Red Stars let the Dash see a whole lot of the ball for much of the match. However, this evening they got to do so while sitting on an early lead, after Katie Johnson finally broke her scoreless drought and got her first tally in a Red Stars jersey. Allysha Chapman had a very poor giveaway in front of Houston’s goal, and Vanessa DiBernardo pounced on it to slot the ball in to Johnson, who placed her shot well from distance and gave the Red Stars an essential early lead.

After the goal, the Red Stars seemed content to sit back and wait for the Dash to force the issue, which was something that Houston had some trouble doing. I don’t want to underestimate how important it is that Katie Naughton has got her full range of mobility back, but it did feel like, over time, the Dash should’ve turned their ball movement in the middle of the field into more dangerous shots on goal. Casey Short had another good game matched up against Kealia Ohai, and Sofia Huerta struggled to get shots off when mobbed at the top of the box.

But this is the whole problem, isn’t it? I’m writing this recap and instead of being able to tell you definitively why Chicago won this match, I’m trying to come up with plausible reasons why the Houston Dash didn’t defeat the Red Stars tonight. I don’t know why Houston hasn’t won in seven games, and I can’t honestly tell you why they didn’t win this one; that’s not my assignment here. But I also can’t say that things have gotten much better for Chicago, despite the result. The midfield has been a mess for a while, and it did not improve today.

I wonder a bit if this season’s campaign has been a losing war of attrition at times. The Red Stars play ok against Washington, but the Spirit over-perform. The Red Stars get creamed in Portland’s home opener. The Reign have Jess Fishlock performing heroics (despite the Red Stars looking much better), the Red Stars then regress while still getting a win through heroics of their own. Chicago then bows to a surging Sky Blue, an unthinkable result until the following week when it’s confirmed that Sky Blue are in fact surging. The Red Stars have no control over any of these scenarios, and that in and of itself is a huge problem.

But there are positives. Johnson has continued to look at ease with Kerr back on the field, though Kerr herself looks like she maybe use a break. Emily Boyd got a well-deserved shutout, which was a fitting cap to her tenure during Alyssa Naeher’s absence. Danny Colaprico got a whole game off, and that’s massive. That’s a nice game ending this rough stretch on a win, and the U.S. players are coming back. The season’s half over, and the reset button has been pushed.

I just really wish I had something new to say about the Chicago Red Stars.