It turns out the Red Stars did sign a golden-boot-level striker this summer: Own Goal. The Red Stars notched two more in the OG column early in the second half of Sunday’s match with OL Reign to turn a 1-0 deficient into a 2-1 advantage and seize the lead for good.
Mallory Pugh provided the crosses for both, the first deflecting off of defender Lauren Barnes and looping over Sarah Bouhaddi in the Reign goal and the second a corner that bounced in off Alana Cook amidst a scrum of players in the six-yard-box (although Pugh asserted that she believes rookie defender Tatum Milazzo should be credited with the goal).
Pugh did eventually get some credit on the scoresheet, breaking the own-goal streak with a thumping effort past Bouhaddi on a loose ball at the top of the box for the Red Stars’ third.
“I am scoring. It’s going in. Me,” Pugh said with a laugh of the goal that broke a streak of five consecutive Red Stars goals credited to opposing players (an NWSL record for an entire season). “After this momentum if we can just keep growing, the goals will come from our players.”
While Pugh was at the center of all three tallies, the game changed with the introduction of Danielle Colaprico for Sarah Woldmoe at halftime.
The change saw the Red Stars switch from a 4-2-3-1 formation to a 4-3-3 and allowed Morgan Gautrat to push further forward in attack and try to win the ball back higher up the field.
OL Reign struggled to adjust to Colaprico’s dynamism in midfield, which allowed the Red Stars to grab control of the match and, as a result, three unanswered goals.
“At halftime we talked a lot about how we have to get higher up in their end and coming into the 6 role [Red Stars coach Rory Dames] mentioned just to help the back line, protect the back line, screen the line and allow our other midfielders and outside backs to get higher up the field which essentially helped us get some own goals and put some in the back of the net. As a sub you just want to do your role and whatever the coach tells you, you try to do. And he got it right.” – Danielle Colaprico
Dames said that with the departure of the national team players to Tokyo for the Olympics, the team has focused on defensive solidity which in his view better suits Woldmoe and Gautrat playing in a double pivot. However, trailing by a goal and in need of a spark, Dames said that Colaprico’s comfort as a solo defensive midfielder allowed the Red Stars to press higher up the field and, as a result, change the game.
“The quality they have on that team, with some of the players they have, is special. In the first half I thought it was too easy for a few of them with how we were set up and where we were. There was too much time and space, they didn’t have to do a lot on the defensive side. So Danny went into the 6, Morgan pushed up higher next to Vanessa, we got Mal and [Kealia] wider to get them isolated on the outside backs and then Hilly went and ran her ass off for 35 minutes. I think when Morgan pushed higher next to Vanessa, Maroszan had to drop more and defend a little bit more. She does a lot of things well, and I’m not saying she doesn’t defend well but I think she’d rather not defend if she didn’t have to… So I think Morgan and Vanessa getting up higher side-by-side allowed Kay and Mal to get wider and allowed us to push more on to the front foot in the second half.”
The win is Chicago’s third in a row and, at the time of writing, catapulted the Red Stars from seventh to first in the NWSL standings despite a goal differential of -4. To thank for it, the Red Stars have the signing of the summer in Own Goal whose efforts they won’t soon forget.
“Over a 24-game season everything balances out,” Dames said. “So if this is the balancing for some of the unlucky stuff from the beginning of the year so be it.”
On Sunday, Red Stars captain Vanessa DiBernardo became the first player to reach 10,000 minutes played for the club, and the 6th player in league history to do so for one club. DiBernardo, as well as Colaprico, Pugh and Dames, were asked about the significance of the milestone as well as DiBernardo’s significance to the team.
DiBernardo: “It’s obviously special. I’ve been super fortunate to play in my hometown since I started professionally… I’m super lucky, I don’t let that go by without recognizing it…. Honestly it was a surprise, I had no idea until after the game.”
Colaprico: “She’s a great captain… one thing I love about Vanessa is you always know what you’re gonna get when she’s on the field. She is consistent and she always brings a level of energy that gets the team going and I feel like that’s important to have as your team captain. Her experience on and off the field has heled this team grow so much over the years and it’s been an honor to play with her.”
Pugh: “I always hated playing against you.. I feel like you should be at 10,000 miles too, you’re all over the field all the time. Anywhere we need an extra player, Vanessa’s there.”
Dames: “I think it’s a tribute to how big she’s been for the club. In professional sports these days, you don’t have people that stick around in the same place for seven, eight, nine years and we’ve got a few of those. So the fact that she’s played that amount of minutes and been with us the whole time…it’s a great compliment to her and her durability, great for the club, and great for the city.”