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Enjoying the Moment: Chicago Red Stars 3, Washington Spirit 1, NWSL Game Recap

A performance that reminded everyone how special this team can be

Chicago Red Stars 3 Kerr 9’, 49’. Nagasato 23’

Washington Spirit 1 Pugh 80’

The Chicago Red Stars won their fourth game in a row on Saturday night, this time against the Washington Spirit.

The Red Stars have been a team of streaks this season, losing three games, then winning five, losing three again, and now winning four. That five-game streak was defined by Julie Ertz and the USWNT contingent returning to the squad after the World Cup, and this one seems to be significant in marking her move back to the Red Star defense.

This is the same move the team made last year, when the midfield was finally healthy enough to allow her to slot back into that role. The Red Stars are taking a similar approach here, allowing the defense to smother what the opposition is trying to do in front of goal and build up to hit Sam Kerr on the counter.

I’m starting with the defense here because they were the backbone upon which the Red Stars put together a blazing first half performance against a team with an impressive amount of attacking firepower. Rose Lavelle and Mal Pugh were both available for the Spirit for the first time in a while, and Washington looked like they were going to come into SeatGeek in search of a shootout.

Instead, Chicago individually worked Washington down. The Spirit came out somewhat methodically, trying to hold possession and work through the midfield. They’re in the middle of a long-term project in their style of play, and you could tell upon watching them that the ideas were there. But possessing out of the back is a tough way to get around the Red Stars, and Chicago stepped up to shut the Spirit down.

To say that Sam Kerr’s first goal of the evening was a nice one would be something of an understatement; it one of the nicest goals ever scored in Bridgeview. Chicago did a decent job getting in behind the Spirit defense throughout the match, but Kerr’s chip at that angle had the perfect amount of audacity and spin to open the scoring in the ninth minute. When Kerr has time on the ball, she can do wonderful things, and she was on her game on Saturday.

And when Kerr is feeling that good, the whole rest of the offense responds. Savannah McCaskill is a very different kind of No. 10 than Vanessa DiBernardo, looking forward and taking shots. Sometimes that results in wasted possession, but it also keeps defenses honest in different ways than DiBernardo’s connecting style.

I’ve already written a bit about McCaskill and Katie Johnson’s place in this season, and the match on Saturday night was a good example in how they’ve grown. Chicago’s second goal was sprung by a cheeky backheel from Johnson, who found Kerr wide open. Kerr then found a similarly wide open Yuki Nagasato at the far post, who roofed the ball into the back of the net to double Chicago’s lead. The Red Stars were just having fun out there.

Washington responded well to conceding, and Casey Short had an unlucky moment where she got tangled up in the box, and the Spirit had a chance to get a goal back. But when I say Chicago individually worked, I mean everybody, and Alyssa Naeher read the penalty the whole way.

I have less to say about the second half of the match, other than that it was very wet. 45 minutes in the pouring rain let Chicago get a little bit sloppy, and they mentally shut off every once in a while, but not before Kerr got her second of the match. This was the goal that broke Kerr’s own single-season goal record, and it was a classic. Nagasato sent a well-weighted ball through the Spirit defense, Kerr got there in time to get a shot off across her body, catching Aubrey Bledsoe wrong-footed.

The Spirit would get a consolation goal late in the match, and the Red Stars could’ve done better to close the game out, but this is the best team Chicago has faced in a number of games and they were dominant when it mattered. Like all of this team’s streaks, you always wonder in the back of your mind when the magic is going to run out, but that shouldn’t get in the way of enjoying the moment.

The Red Stars have clinched a fifth consecutive playoff spot. Sam Kerr has a new scoring record. Chicago has already exceeded last year’s points total by four, with a game to go. It’s a little bit early to wax too poetic about this group and this year, but they have many things to be proud of. The season’s almost over, so let’s enjoy what we’ve got right now.

Chicago will finish the regular season against the Utah Royals on September 28th at 7pm CT at SeatGeek stadium.