For the first time all season, the Chicago Red Stars had turned a game around. After trailing early, they dominated the second half on Wednesday night against Racing Louisville. Kealia Watt finally scored her second goal of the year to tie the game in the 57th minute, and in the waning moments a winner felt like a foregone conclusion.
Rachel Hill fired a shot toward goal which struck the flailing arm of Louisville defender Gemma Bonner. The Red Stars had a penalty to win the game, or so they thought.
“Until PRO referee decides that the NWSL is important to them and not just a training ground for MLS referees it won’t get better,” said Red Stars head coach Rory Dames, both of the no-call and the theme of controversial officiating that has hovered over the entire 2021 NWSL season.
“If went through all the points we’ve lost this year because of referees…” he mused, the most recent point of contention having been poor challenges by Orlando Pride players that forced both Danielle Colaprico and Morgan Gautrat to exit that came inured. “But the referee didn’t give the ball away on the goal they scored, on the one shot on goal they had. And the referee didn’t miss all the chances we had. But we certainly don’t seem to be on the right side of a lot of calls this year.”
The giveaway was by Colaprico, who in the 10th minute was disposed at the top of the Chicago 18-yard box by Louisville forward Ebony Salmon who then nutmegged Casssie Miller in the Red Stars’ goal to give the home team the lead.
“We just came together and said ‘we made a mistake, that’s not on one person, we made a mistake’ and gave them a goal and we have got to fight ourselves back into this game and we did not have any doubts that we would and we’re so proud, I’m so proud of us,” said Watt of the team’s mentality in the second half.
Despite not finding the winning goal, Chicago players were beaming through their exhaustion after earning the draw. They needed to prove to themselves they could pick themselves up when they’d fallen down, and after a game and flight Sunday night and five-hour bus ride on Tuesday, they did so under the most strenuous of circumstances.
“I told the players after the game how proud I was of them… we needed something like this where we just fight back and get on the right side of it,” said Dames. “In the 90th minute of your second game in three days, when the same players are still running 60 yard to get into the box, those are the things that will stand out.”
Perhaps no player was more worn-down than defender Arin Wright, who played the game with one leg covered in tape to the point she looked liable to fall apart at any moment. However, playing in front of a Racing Louisville record 7,310 fans was an experience no amount of bumps and bruises was going to hold her back from.
“I definitely didn’t feel good going into the game, but of all the games this season this one probably meant the most to me,” said Wright, who is a Kentucky native and played at the University of Kentucky in college.
Her attitude epitomized the team’s attitude on Wednesday: a refusal to give up despite the schedule, the heat, the reason they were behind in the first place, the number of chances, the penalty that wasn’t, or the injuries being carried.
“There was no way I wasn’t going to be on the field in front of my home state and all my family for the first time ever as a pro,” said Wright. “I didn’t care how much I was hurt, I was playing and I was giving it everything I had.”
National Team Players Returning
Wednesday’s game saw the return of Tierna Davidson and Casey Krueger after helping the USWNT win a bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics. Both players started and played the entirety of the game.
“The fact that Tierna and Casey played 90 minutes is unbelievable,” said Dames, who described their return as “a huge lift” for the squad.
As for Julie Ertz, Dames said he doesn’t know when she’ll return to the team and that she is currently out of market working to recover from the Olympics.
“I don’t think Julie got to properly rehab her knee and then I think, obviously, her load was large,” Dames said of Ertz’s quick transition from injured to playing significant minutes. “I think the most important thing is for Julie to have enough time to physically recover.”
Finally, Alyssa Naeher will be out at least four weeks with a knee injury sustained in the Olympic semifinal vs Canada.
Looking Ahead to Saturday
After losing on penalty kicks to determine who would advance to the Women’s Cup final, the Red Stars will face defending French champions Paris Saint-Germain on Saturday at 2 PM CT in the third-place match.
After most of the starting lineup played two games in three days, including several carrying injuries, expect most (if not all) of the XI to change for Saturday’s game.
Rory Dames says the entire team will have Thursday off and that only the players with a possibility of starting Saturday’s game will train on Friday. Beyond that, he said the management of substitutions will depend on how the game plays out and which players are available off the bench.
“There are other players here who need that experience,” Dames said of his plans vs PSG. “There are players on our team who have busted their ass for six months and haven’t really got chances… and we’ll expect those players to come out and represent the club and we’ll try to win the game for sure.”
“A lot of us are holding on by a thread, but we are so excited,” said Kealia Watt. “This is such a cool opportunity to play [PSG]… either team is such an awesome experience to get to play and something new, so we are so excited.”