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All You Tired Human Beings: Chicago Red Stars 1, Orlando Pride 2, NWSL Game Recap

Well this is how we do things now

photo by Nikita Taparia

Chicago Red Stars 1 Davidson 90+6’

Orlando Pride 2 Hill 33’, Ubogagu 61’

The Chicago Red Stars lost again tonight, this time to the Orlando Pride.

Rachel Hill scored a good goal for Orlando in the 33rd minute, and Chioma Ubogagu scored a good one of her own in the 61st minute. Alex Morgan was lost to the game in the sixth minute after being sandwiched between two Chicago defenders, and Tierna Davidson got one back for the Red Stars and notched her first NWSL goal in stoppage time. Alanna Kennedy got a red card.

A number of soccer things happened in this game. There were some missed calls, some interesting substitutes, and one really interesting formation change (Chicago played in a box midfield. It was wild).

But as always I think we have to talk about the big picture. It feels like a big picture week.

The arc of a year is a difficult thing to define, especially when the object in motion is still charting its trajectory. One of the beautiful things about soccer is that we don’t know what’s going to happen in any given moment, and sports are beloved in part due the feeling of endless impossibility. This odd skid of two losses to the two worst teams in the league might be a blip in a successful season, just an oddity to laugh about later.

But I don’t think so.

The Chicago Red Stars are a club of two sides, and present a dichotomy that is sometimes really hard to watch. Over seven years (and honestly beyond), they’ve constructed a roster that rivals that of any team in the league. This is a special group of players, many of whom have played for this club their whole careers or have even lived in this area their whole lives. That managing of a roster is such a valuable skill, and it’s something to be incredibly proud of. This club creates an environment that makes players feel supported and encourages them to succeed. The Red Stars at their best show exactly what that beautiful things can turn into; they’re completely unbeatable on their best days.

But the Red Stars, year after year, have shown the perils of relying on those players too much. Chicago lost games in the middle of this season because their players were worn down, just like they have in past seasons.

And friends, I’m concerned that is what is happening now. Rory Dames and his staff have done such a good job working with Morgan Brian in particular to get her match-fit after years of uncertainty, but overall the Red Stars lost games this year because they were dealing with a struggling midfield and central defense.

And now? Julie Ertz is incredible, but she’s a human being. She came back from playing almost every minute of the World Cup in scintillating form, and that form has declined after coming back to playing 90 minutes in every game with her club (not to mention the Victory Tour). Sam Kerr has started every single game for Chicago since her immediate return from France, and she’s played well! Imagine if she’d had any time off.

Dames and Vanessa DiBernardo have also both asserted that she’s not hurt anymore (despite featuring on the injury report with that same hip a number of times this season), but in motion, she’s not a physical player. When her game is on, she’s incredible. When teams take the game to her, in that particular way the NWSL allows, she’s not shoving back.

I could also be absolutely wrong about all of this. Underachieving is such a difficult thing to analyze, especially when all outward signs continue to be as positive as always. During the Red Stars’ five-game winning streak (remember that?), Dames credited Chicago’s improved form to the every single player stepping up and giving more. He created this roster, and he trusts them to go out there and deliver. He also trusts the squad to play through this new rough patch. They either will or they won’t. Such is the story of these Chicago Red Stars.

And the reality is that no matter what happens in the coming weeks, that story is coming to a close. I and others have alluded to this in previous months, but the picture of next year’s NWSL is becoming clearer, and things are going to change. This is not a commentary on whispered trade rumors of anyone’s star striker: league expansion is coming.

This is almost certainly Chicago’s last chance with this special, expertly-crafted group of individuals to etch their names into something of value. Sometimes, when you watch a team this talented struggle, you have to wonder if too much is being asked of them. Such is the arc of a season, and such is the arc of a club. Chicago’s players are going to be asked to play through this. They either will or they won’t.

Chicago (9W 2D 7L, 29pts, 2nd place) will travel to Portland on short rest to play the league-leading Thorns on Sunday, August 25th.