The Chicago Red Stars all but clinched a playoff berth with a hard fought 2-1 win over Kansas City. The narrow win— the third by a one-goal margin in four games— lifted the Red Stars to 35 points going into the final game of the season.
Heading into the match, Kansas City had little to play for. 17 points adrift from the playoff line, they were already eliminated from postseason contention. Nonetheless, they came out in a solid defensive formation, which proved frustrating for the hosts to break down early on.
A fast start from the Red Stars eventually led to the first chance of the game, where Kealia Watt made her way into the box and created a chance for Katie Johnson, who hit the post. This was one of three instances where the Red Stars hit the woodwork in a frustrating first half hour.
Mallory Pugh and Watt both had chances inside the 18 yard box to take the lead, but both saw their shots flash wide. Though the Red Stars peppered the goal for most of the first half, the opening goal did not come until the 34th minute, where the game dramatically opened up. Just a few minutes after Kansas City’s first meaningful chance of the game went wide, a set piece opportunity produced the breakthrough. Tierna Davidson’s shot took multiple deflections, and eventually found its way into the net. The own goal was credited to Kristen Edmonds; own goals have been responsible for five Red Stars goals this season, more than any individual on the team.
Despite Chicago taking the lead, the momentum immediately shifted towards Kansas City for the remainder of the half. A corner kick found Hallie Mace for a free header inside the box, which found its way into the net. Another powerful shot for KC was tipped over the bar by Cassie Miller, keeping the score level going into the break.
Coming out after halftime, though, the Red Stars retook the momentum. After just five minutes, the lead was restored following a very nice team goal off of a counter attack. Mallory Pugh progressed the ball very well into the final third, finding Kealia Watt whose cross set up Makenzy Doniak for a simple yet challenging tap in, for her fourth goal of the season.
There were a few more chances throughout the second half, but the pace of the game never really reached the levels of the first half again. Mallory Pugh missed a challenging volley in the 58th minute, which was one of the last meaningful opportunities for Chicago. Kansas City provided some late pressure from the 80th minute onwards as the clock marched towards 90. Cassie Miller had to save a volley in the 76th minute, her only official save of the night. The clock ran down, though, and the Red Stars closed out their final home game of the season with a win.
The playoff picture will become much clearer after tomorrow’s meeting between the North Carolina courage and Gotham FC. But with Orlando eliminated earlier today, all it will take is a win in the final game in Orlando to officially clinch a playoff spot. Gotham‘s three games in hand could be a problem, though, even if they lose against North Carolina.
Following the upcoming international break, the Red Stars will close out the regular season and Exploria Stadium against the Pride.