The Chicago Red Stars and Houston Dash played their first competitive match in six months on Friday night, and it looked like it as the game saw no goals, disconnected periods of play and Houston fail to record a shot on target in the opener of the 2021 Challenge Cup.
It may not have been pretty, but it did earn Chicago a point on the road against the tournament’s inaugural champions.
“We came in and played the defending champs on their field,” said Red Stars coach Rory Dames afterward. “Any time you can do that and get a point you’ll take the point.”
The Red Stars will play additional group games against Portland, Kansas City and OL Reign before the top team in the group advances to the championship game. The rematch of last year’s final with Houston saw the Red Stars out-shoot the Dash 11-3, with two on target.
The best chances came on an early header by Kayla Sharples from an excellent Kealia Watt cross, and later a goal-line clearance from Houston before Vanessa DiBernardo could knock home a loose ball in the six-yard box.
Both teams took time to grow into the game, neither ever quite looking comfortable, but the Red Stars feel that with more game time under their belts better soccer will follow.
“I think the first half in general was a bit chaotic for us,” said Danielle Colaprico, who played in her usual defensive midfield role for the full 90 minutes. “But that comes with it being the first game of the season and I think we’re only gonna go up from here. It’s just finding our rhythm quicker in the first half and getting our feet under ourselves.”
One player who did look to have her feet firmly under her was goalkeeper Cassie Miller, who got the start with Alyssa Naeher in Sweden on national team duty and Emily Boyd still working back to full fitness from an ACL injury in 2020. Miller didn’t have any saves to make, but she commanded her area well.
“We are absolutely confident in her,” said defender Casey Krueger, who also went the full 90. “Her range is insane coming out for those crosses, we were never worried for a second on any of those.”
In addition to the Red Stars debuts of Sarah Woldmoe and rookie Tatumn Milazzo, Friday saw the return of Arin Wright for her first NWSL action since August 2019 due to maternity leave. She played 87 minutes before an ankle roll saw her make a slightly early departure.
“I thought she played her way into the second half really well, found her footing, starting to get forwards like she used to, and started making those runs higher up the field,” said Dames, who in general appeared more positive about his team’s second half. “So I would say overall for the night I think Arin exceeded our expectations for sure in her first game back.”
The Red Stars now travel back to Chicago to prepare for their second group-stage game, a return to SeatGeek Stadium to face the Portland Thorns next Thursday.