There is s a Green Day song that asks “Do You Know Your Enemy?” The Red Stars and Washington Spirit certainly do, having played each other three times in the last six weeks. But perhaps the Red Stars know a bit more as they completed the set of games with 7 points out of a possible 9 with Sunday evening’s 3-1 victory.
Chicago played a more aggressive style this time around than in recent games, including their previous 1-1 draw with the Spirit, which early in the game caught the visitors off guard.
“It’s kind of like riding a racehorse that want’s to run and pulling on the reigns, this week we let the reins go,” said Red Stars coach Rory Dames of his approach.
This strategy placed an emphasis on the one-v-one defending abilities of veteran Arin Wright and rookie Tatum Milazzo.
“I think we set up really well,” said Wright of the Red Stars’ tactics. “I think we baited them into exactly what we wanted them to do… you saw them first half, we intercepted so many passes and created chances off of that so I think we executed the game plan to a T.”
Rookie sensation Trinity Rodman has been Washington’s creative spark this season, and was the task of Wright in the first half before flipping sides and taking on Milazzo in the second. Wright has recently matched up with the more dangerous opposing winger, but Dames said he felt confident sticking to the existing setup despite the Spirit’s adjustment.
“Arin’s taking a huge responsibility each week because she’s been tasked with Midge Purce, [Eugenie] Le Sommer, Rodman,” he said. “In the second half when they switched Rodman to the other side I thought ‘you know what, we’re gonna stay as is’ and I thought Tatum did a great job on her.”
Rodman did score the Spirit’s lone goal of the game off a Red Stars turnover, but in possession struggled to wriggle past the Chicago defense on either flank.
“Trinity is super dynamic, so the the key with her is to get up on her before she can get going,” Wright said. “I think every game we read into whoever we’re going to be going against and we talk to our coaches about that and do our research on them, and I feel like that’s working.”
While the Red Stars best 90-minute efforts came on defense, the game’s best moment game from a mazing Mal Pugh solo goal complete with a finish off the inside of the post past the outstretched fingertips of Washington’s Aubrey Bledsoe.
The best part of the goal, however, was the celebration that followed: Mal Pugh blasted an imaginary pitch from Kealia Watt high out of SeatGeek stadium as catcher Danielle Colaprico and umpire Kayla Sharples watched on.
“So that’s been planned since the beginning of the Challenge Cup and I just keep forgetting to do it,” Pugh said. “Me, Danny and Kay were warming up and I said ‘guys if I score we’re gonna do the celebration’”
The joy for Pugh’s success is evident throughout the team, but perhaps nowhere more-so than the praise of Dames who sounded both emotional and proud describing the progress he’s seen her make this season.
“I think the biggest thing with Mal is Mal just remembering what it means to me Mal and having the freedom to find her way and do that,” Dames said of his star striker’s ever-improving form “We’ve said all along that we didn’t bring Mal here to be our savior or anything like that, but continuing to learn to trust her body, continuing to trust her fitness, that she can accelerate, slow down, cut and know her body is gonna hold up for her is huge. …Mal has really started to show why she’s Mal, and she’s just scratching the surface.”