Reign FC 0
Chicago Red Stars 4 Wright 4’, DiBernardo 14’, Nagasato 51’, Kerr 81’
I...don’t really know what to say
This was a complaint I had two weeks ago, not having the words to describe where the Red Stars are at in this developing NWSL season.
Friends, I am now having trouble describing this turnaround.
The Red Stars went to Tacoma, played against the largest crowd in Reign FC history, and put on an attacking showcase we haven’t seen for months. Four goals, none conceded, back in third place, a truly dominant performance. I’m struggling for words.
So, in lieu of balanced analysis, how about something different. I’ve used this medium to air my lists of complaints, so let’s get ready for some superlatives.
Sam Kerr connected with teammates throughout the match, facilitating movement up front and assisting Vanessa DiBernardo’s goal with a no-look pass right out of Steph Curry’s playbook. She also got a cheeky goal of her own in the 81st minute, making a crossing run within the Reign defense to slot back her 11th goal of the season. And DiBernardo, what a streak she is having, all on a questionable hip. Her late run for Chicago’s second goal was a beauty, and she moved further forward with a confidence we haven’t seen from her since before the World Cup.
Arin Wright? What a shift. She pursued Yuki Nagasato’s early shot in the 4th minute to tally in Chicago’s first goal, inexplicably her first in the league, before shifting back into left back after Tierna Davidson was subbed in the second half. On her own, Nagasato had her best game in weeks, causing trouble on the left side for the first 15 minutes, and getting a goal of her own in the 51st minute off a cross from Casey Short. Casey Short! She took a knock in the early going, and gutted through the rest of the match knowing that she had some teammates sitting on planned substitutions.
Ok, let’s keep going. Morgan Brian. She’s completely transformed the Chicago midfield, looking healthier than she has in a long time. She’s firmly sat in that no. 8 role with Julie Ertz behind her (don’t worry, we’ll get to Julie Ertz), and she made everyone around her better. At her core, Brian is a possessor, and she makes runs that makes DiBernardo and Nagasato more comfortable in that part of Chicago’s game, and she instigated a number of the Red Stars’ looks at goal on Sunday afternoon.
Julie Ertz. The commentary called her underrated, which isn’t true, but she is perhaps unremarked on in how she’s actually improved over the past twelve months. I’m not sure there’s a single soccer player alive in this moment who is more in form than Ertz. She’s always been a beast for Chicago, but I hazard a radical statement in saying that she’s the best she’s ever been in that defensive midfield role, and she provides cover for the Red Stars’ center-back pairing that they didn’t have during the World Cup break.
Also providing cover? Alyssa Naeher. She’s moving with a confidence that comes from guiding the best team in the world to a championship as their #1 goalkeeper, and it’s continued to show. Her ability to organize her defense is underrated, but she also dealt with a direct attack tonight and showed her ability to make good decisions in the air, with space.
Who else we got. Katie Johnson? Perfect in her role off the bench. Katie Naughton and Sarah Gorden? They held together just as much as necessary at all times, never trying to do too much or too little. Savannah McCaskill is a menace to bring off the bench. Nikki Stanton is free in the wind, not a yellow card to hold her.
Allow me one final note, on a player who wasn’t actually in Tacoma today. It’s through retroactive results that we’ve had the scope to see how much the Red Stars relied on a hurt Danny Colaprico to hold things together in the midfield while World Cup players were missing, and it’s a blessing that she’s had a chance to rest a bit mid-season. She’s an important part of this team, but only when her legs will give her the work that her mind deserves. Her input this year has been truly admirable, and I hope she can get back in with this rejuvenated squad in upcoming weeks.
As for what’s next - anything is possible, and I don’t know if this form is going to last. Next week’s game without USWNT players against a crunching Utah Royals squad could be a painful one, and there are a lot of games left in this season. But this is the cohesive, dominating soccer Chicago promised us early this season, and it’s better than the best we got in 2018. This team is hungry, and they’re ready to accept the good things that come with that. I’m ready too.
The Chicago Red Stars (7W 2D 5L, 23pts, 3rd place) are back at it next Saturday when they host Utah.