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Chicago Red Stars 2, North Carolina Courage 1: What We Learned

Chicago Red Stars set attendance record and get a win against North Carolina Courage

Shaina Benhiyoun Photography

It’s two days later and the sound still hasn’t left you. It’s still reverberating somewhere, in the back of your neck, echoing in your ears, or ringing in your brain.

The Chicago Red Stars beat the North Carolina Courage, 2-1, on Sunday in front of 17,388 fans in a World Cup Welcome Back match. The shift in momentum coming out of a win like this feels different from other “big games” in years prior. It’s officially the second half of the season, the band is back together, and the push is on.

Here’s some things we learned this week from the Red Stars’ most recent win.

Game Recognize Game

There are currently only 9 teams in NWSL, and the concept of rivalry is something that is still growing along with the league. The most famous of NWSL rivalries is the Cascadia rivalry between the Portland Thorns and Reign FC. There was even one season that had the forced ‘regional rivalry’ for the sake of team travel (RIP FC Kansas City).

But these two particular teams have played each other closely over the years, and may have built the closest thing to an ‘organic’ rivalry among NWSL teams. Each of them getting the better of each other in a version of the regular season and the other during playoffs.

While the banter is for the fans, the players and coaches hold the rivalry in regard to respect. Almost two teams playing a game of checkers trying to outwit the other in an effort to seize the game while also beholden to their opponents next move and skill.

“You give Sam Kerr one chance, she buries it,” Courage coach Paul Riley said in post game comments. “We sometimes need six or seven chances to do what Sam Kerr can do with one.”

Red Stars coach Rory Dames recognizes the Courage have typically been on top of the table, and says they’re the problem the Red Stars still need to solve in the playoffs, saying:

“If you’re going to win the league you have to go through North Carolina, and you’re probably going to have to go through North Carolina in North Carolina.”

“We seem to do okay against them in the regular season, but we’ve got to figure them out in the postseason,” said Dames. “That’s why they’re special. Because they elevate their game.”

A record setting crowd and a high energy competitive match for ESPN was a win for everyone involved in the league. While it was a loss for North Carolina, the deeper meaning and larger picture of the day wasn’t lost on them, as Abby Erceg expressed on Twitter.

Everybody STFU about Morgan Brian, you’re telling on yourself

Morgan Brian rules.

Over the last several weeks the Red Stars found themselves battling through some tough losses, with some matches really carving up their midfield. The return of both Julie Ertz and Morgan Brian reset the tempo for the team this game.

If Ertz is the muscle, and DiBernardo the vision, then Brian is the Brain. Her ability to read the game, and this one in particular, two passes or plays ahead - provided a general calm and aggressive possession that the team had been lacking.

Welcome Back, indeed.

This one actually is for the kids

Sam Kerr got the game winner, a brilliant double nutmeg sequence of a goal to put the Red Stars up, 2-1. But it was Chicago’s hometown kids who helped bring this game to life.

When they were down a goal, is was Vanessa DiBernardo’s equalizer that lifted the crowd out of their seats on Sunday. A great ball from Arin Wright that rainbowed its way over North Carolina’s backlike combined with Sam Kerr’s positioning - scrambled the centerbacks like eggs on toast - but DiBernardo’s patience on her run gave way to a rowdy goal, one that she knew was in before it even crossed the line.

And the city was alive.

For fellow Chicagoland natives Katie Naughton, Sarah Gorden, and Casey Short - they each put on defensive efforts that helped seal the victory for their club, and their hometown. In a city that loves its defenders, Gorden’s recovery runs gave thrills as good as goals on the day.

Overall it was a day more than months in the making. In hindsight it was a moment that for so many involved had been working towards for years. The Red Stars roster expanded by 17,000 on Sunday. The day was big, it was loud, and it was some of the best soccer we’ve seen the Red Stars play over the last five weeks. It’s what everyone deserves.