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Easily Won, Weary of Losing: Chicago Red Stars 3, Houston Dash 0, NWSL Game Recap

Was I a risk without reward, or did I make you proud?

Shaina Benhiyoun Photography

Chicago Red Stars 3 Kerr 7’ 44’, McCaskill 65’

Houston Dash 0

In most sports, as common knowledge follows, you either lose or you win. Now soccer isn’t really one of those sports, but you’d never know it the way the 2019 Chicago Red Stars have played the 18 NWSL games since their last draw.

On this particular Sunday night Chicago got the win, taking down the Houston Dash for the third time this season, ending the Red Stars’ second three-game losing streak of the year and righting the ship towards the postseason, at least for now.

If this game was either going to be a win or a loss, as is the way we do things now, you could see the logic behind the Red Stars’ starting XI, which saw some changes. Julie Ertz started in central defense with Tierna Davidson, and Sarah Gorden slotted out to outside back along with (defender of the year frontrunner) Casey Short.

The backline shakeup partially came from Arin Wright being a late scratch due to illness, but it’s not insignificant after a deeply disappointing result against Orlando and a shellacking at the hands of Portland that Katie Naughton wasn’t in Chicago’s first XI. The Red Stars are still figuring out the best way to play everyone at their best spot on the field, and I’m sure we’ll see things change again before the year has run its course, but that was a coach’s decision. The greater magnitude of what that means will have to be revealed in the future.

But for now let’s look at the positives of the backline moves: Chicago’s midfield looks really healthy! Danny Colaprico had her best match in ages, and Morgan Brian has begun not only to move with natural ability, but with a veteran’s authority. Those two players back Vanessa DiBernardo up in different ways than a midfield with Julie Ertz in it, but barring any significant advancements in cloning technology, the Red Stars can only slot Ertz in to deal with one need at a time. And taking a gamble on a smaller statured midfield against Houston paid off.

The Dash were primarily playing in their own half for the first 45 minutes, holding Rachel Daly up next to Chicago’s backline in a formation that looked like it was searching to spring the England international in behind the Red Stars defense. But Houston also committed to possessing out of the back, which caused them some problems in finding the timing to get Daly in on goal.

The Dash also defended in pockets of space, lining up to try to disrupt passing lanes between Chicago’s offense. That strategy helped contain a lot of what DiBernardo was trying to do in the No.10 role, but it also conceded space for Sam Kerr to occupy, which she took. Kerr was her best self on Sunday, performing a mixture of selfless connecting play and taking the game under her control. She had a nifty near post shot open the scoring in the 7th minute (an important sign for the Red Stars this year), and she doubled the scoreline when she pulled a classic across-the-body shot from the top of the box in the 44th minute.

The second half led to a greater dominance in possession by the Dash, but without many looks on goal to trouble Alyssa Naeher. It looked for a period of time that Houston might be as likely to pull one back as the Red Stars were to further their lead, but it was still Chicago that put the final touch on the night. Casey Short sent a beautiful ball over Houston’s back line with her left foot, and Savannah McCaskill caught Amber Brooks completely unaware to toe-poke in the third goal, getting her first as a Chicago Red Star.

The third goal essentially killed the game, despite Katie Johnson drawing a penalty that was taken by Yuki Nagasato and saved by Jane Campbell. There were assuredly late game theatrics, but the result was set in stone by that point.

So! Chicago is back in third place, and back in a playoff position. They have four games left in the season, two of which will be taking place in the next six days. After last night, it certainly feels like they should be able to clear that top four mark, but also nothing is guaranteed.

Ultimately, with every game that passes it’s difficult to assign the path that Chicago is going to take to the natural end of this season. Even when the Red Stars figure things out and perform, the discouraging losses are still living inside of them. And even when they lose, they’re never stripped of the feeling of infinite potential that follows a team this talented. They’re winners and losers all balled up into one. They’re both. Aren’t we all.

The Chicago Red Stars (10W 2D 8L, 32pts, 3rd place) have a quick turnaround this week. They’ll face Orlando on the road on Wednesday night.