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The Center Will Not Hold: Chicago Red Stars 1, Sky Blue FC 2, NWSL Game Recap

Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket

Shaina Benhiyoun Photography

Chicago Red Stars 1 Colaprico 83’

Sky Blue FC 2 Rodriguez 23’, Hoy 81’

The bandaid was just a bandaid.

Despite getting a win against the Orlando Pride last week, it was clear that the Chicago Red Stars hadn’t sorted the work in solving the deeper problems lying in their midfield, and they looked just as troubling as ever in the clubs first ever loss to Sky Blue FC.

Now I want to get ahead of that part of it early; Sky Blue looked decent tonight. There’s something to be said for the psychological bump after a problematic manager is let go, and the troupe from New Jersey came in with a solid effort and a very reasonable defensive formation. They caught Chicago on the counter twice, and those were good individual efforts against a thinning Chicago central defense (Katie Naughton went a heroic 90 minutes tonight but she looked hobbled by the hip issue that’s haunted her for a few weeks).

So let’s parse out some of the things that went wrong: the Chicago defense got pulled out of shape, with Arin Wright and Casey Short tracking highly and then collapsing in and giving Sky Blue’s forwards a whole lot of time on the ball. The Chicago midfield also didn’t get rolling until the second half, littering the first 45 minutes with touches that were off, and a lack of connection between Danny Colaprico and Nikki Stanton in the defensive midfield and Vanessa DiBernardo further forward. For her part, Savannah McCaskill worked very hard, but she either got pulled back or inward, either leaving Sam Kerr isolated against the Sky Blue backline or making overlapping runs that cut down on the efficiency of both players.

The problem both is and is not the defensive breakdowns. Those moments aren’t good, but they keep happening because of the complacency in the midfield. It’s that complacency that makes Wright and Short work way too hard to generate offense and it relinquishes possession and allowing the opposition to make those runs at Chicago’s center-backs. Sky Blue’s first goal came off a full collapse that left Raquel Rodriguez wide open on goal, and the second was Jen Hoy getting sprung by a Kailen Sheridan goal kick.

At this moment the Red Stars are doing neither the simple nor the complicated things well. Things improved in the second half, with Michele Vasconcelos and Katie Johnson coming on and providing a spark, and things really took a wild turn as the second half progressed, but the Red Stars were chasing a game they should’ve put to sleep from the first whistle. Vasconcelos also went down with a non-contact injury in the middle of that second half push, and I would be shocked if it didn’t turn out to be something that’s going to sideline her for a while.

It seems like Chicago keeps getting rocked by bad luck, and once again they outworked Sky Blue in most end-of-game statistics, but they’re forcing themselves into heroics that they’re having trouble pulling off. All the normal, reasonable, in-game logic for what is happening to Chicago’s season can be compelling, but it’s also hard to shake the feeling that they could simply be trying harder. I don’t know if that’s fixable by a formation change, or a few more players back from the World Cup. This is uncharacteristic, and for a club with character that’s a scary thing to see.

The Chicago Red Stars (4W 2D 5L, 14pts, 6th place) have worked themselves into a must-win against the Houston Dash at 7:30pm CT at BBVA Stadium. They still have time to work this out, but if they haven’t responded yet, one has to wonder if it’s going to happen at all.