In their 2021 home debut, the Chicago Red Stars drew 0-0 with Gotham FC to pick up their first point of the NWSL season. Mallory Pugh was the star of the show, creating numerous chances and looking back to her old self with her combination of speed and acceleration but unable to find or create the breakthrough.
“That was my first 90-minute game in a very long time,” Pugh said afterword, clearly exasperated . “I feel good, I feel confident, and it’s just nice to have the energy of my teammates around me.”
Even if there had been goals the big story of the night wasn’t on the field but was, of course, the return of Red Stars fans who watched their team play in person for the first time since October 20, 2019 when they defeated the Portland Thorns 1-0 to advance to advance to the 2019 NWSL Championship game (the less said about that the better).
A crowd of 3,121 gathered at SeatGeek stadium in Bridgeview, bringing the total attendance for the Fire and Red Stars on the day to 13,965.
A pregame tailgate organized by new Red Stars investor Sarah Spain, Chicago Local 134’s drums in the north end (newly named ‘The Neighborhood’), and fan cheers as the starting lineup was announced set the tone for the evening. The final exclamation point for the buildup was the Red Stars reveal of the Momentum Kit, the club’s new third kit.
We have a map, we have a city that supports us, and now it's full steam ahead.— Chicago Red Stars (@chicagoredstars) May 23, 2021
Introducing the third jersey in our trilogy: the Momentum Jersey.
SHOP NOW: https://t.co/XLvg5Z1BR5 pic.twitter.com/F8qllvBg6a
“For me it was really special, obviously that was my first home game here at SeatGeek in front of all these fans,” said Pugh, who was named the player of the match. “It was just nice to have that 12th man and we really felt their energy. I’m just looking forward to other home games.”
Before kickoff, Local 134 displayed a banner that said ‘We Believe Sarah Gorden,’ which was not only noticed but deeply appreciated by the Red Stars defender.
“It feels good to have people behind you,” Gorden said. “That was obviously a really difficult emotional situation for me and my family. So it means a lot to know how people care about you on and off the field like that.”
The soccer began just as exciting, with the Red Stars dominating the opening exchanges and lively interplay between Rachel Hill, Mallory Pugh and Kealia Watt. While the Red Stars were more often the team on the attack in the first half, Gotham struck the bar twice and would have taken the lead if not for the quick reflexes of Alyssa Nahaer, who’s only save of the night pushed the first of those efforts on to the woodwork.
The Red Stars dominated the second 45 as well, but were a vital touch away from finding a winner.
“I think it comes from from familiarity and continuing to play with each other,” Red Stars coach Rory Dames said of his team’s attack. “As a group, we believe that if we keep working hard and putting in time in the final third, the goals will come.”
The Red Stars will play their second of three games in eight days on Wednesday when they travel to face Kansas City. Despite no goals in two games and no wins, the Red Stars left SeatGeek Stadium on Saturday night feeling like they made progress.
“Ultimately, there were chances that I just needed to finish plain and simple,” Pugh said, shouldering responsibility. “It’s definitely coming, but I don’t think it’s there yet. Hopefully in Kansas City we get that edge back.”