The Chicago Red Stars took down the league leading Portland Thorns 2-1 in a strong come-from-behind win, ensuring their first regular season win over the Thorns since June 1st, 2013, in the NWSL’s inaugural season. Goals from Kealia Watt and Rachel Hill propelled the Red Stars to the win, securing a valuable three points in the playoff race.
Throughout the first 20 minutes, the Red Stars had the majority of the possession, but found the well-organized Portland back line tough to break down. Arin Wright had a chance well saved in the first five minutes, and Casey Krueger had a chance from a corner kick which somehow ended up wide of the post. The best of the early chances came for Rachel Hill, who found an amount space inside the 18 rarely conceded by the Thorns, but the shot was straight at the goalkeeper.
The breakthrough came against the run of play, however, for the visitors. Christine Sinclair opened the scoring with Portland’s first shot on target of the match, striking the ball across the goal and off the inside of the far post.
The lead would only last a minute, though. Kealia Watt converted from inside the box into a nearly empty net, with the goalkeeper already out of the equation following a failed attempt at preventing a one-on-one. Watt’s third goal of the season surpassed her scoring total from last season (2). Despite the 1-1 score at the half, the Red Stars out-shot the Thorns, 8-3.
The goal was just one of numerous occasions where Arin Wright contributed in the attack, despite starting as a left back. At moments, the shape morphed into more of a three-at-the-back system with the other three defenders sliding towards the middle and Wright and Hill acting as wing backs.
Portland made a triple change to start the second half bringing on more attacking options, but they were stifled throughout the full 45 minutes. Despite holding two-thirds of the possession, they only managed two shots on target. Sarah Woldmoe and Morgan Gautrat played a large role, anchoring the midfield and preventing Crystal Dunn and Christine Sinclair from providing any attacking threat.
What was ultimately the winning goal came 25 minutes from the final whistle; Mallory Pugh delivered a dime of a cross for Rachel Hill to head home. It was Hill’s third goal of the season and Pugh’s fourth assist. It was yet another quality performance from Pugh, who proved once again why she is back in the national team picture.
The league-leading Thorns put pressure on towards the end, but came up short. The win was one of the best, if not the best performance for Chicago this season, which maintains its position in the playoff spots going into the final four matches. The victory was made even sweeter by the fact that this was the same Thorns team which had destroyed the Red Stars 5-0 earlier in the season. This was, of course, compounded by the aforementioned staggering fact that it was the Red Stars’ first regular season win over Portland in eight years.
Head coach Rory Dames gave an update on Julie Ertz and Alyssa Naeher, sharing that he “would be surprised if they play again this year.” Ertz picked up an injury in the aforementioned 5-0 loss in Portland, and Naeher was hurt in the Olympic semifinal against Canada.
The Red Stars will continue their pursuit of a playoff berth in a week at home against the Orlando Pride.