It does not get better than that.
The Chicago Red Stars punched their ticket into the playoffs by winning their final match of the regular season at home by a score of 2-0. The game had not felt like it had been won until Yuki Nagasato’s goal in the 77th minute increased the Red Stars’ advantage to two goals. Up until this point, the match was back and forth with both teams possessing the ball well and creating clear-cut chances in front of goal. Both sides were playing at full intensity, and it was certainly a fight out there. The game had 27 fouls, 3 yellow cards, and a penalty, and at certain points, it could have gone either way.
Ex-Red Star Savannah McCaskill threatened on numerous occasions, including from a penalty kick, but was unable to find the back of the net. The Red Stars however were able to capitalize on their chances, with goals coming from forwards Mal Pugh and Yuki Nagasato.
Red Stars’ captain Vanessa DiBernardo had the first big chance of the match in the 12th minute. A turnover just outside of Angel City’s penalty area led to DiBernardo finding space inside the penalty area. Her first-time effort however was too central and was saved.
The next three chances of the match fell for Angel City and it was McCaskill who threatened Chicago’s net on all three occasions. The first two efforts in the 13th and 27th minutes of play sent Red Stars’ goalkeeper, Alyssa Naeher, at full stretch. To Naeher’s relief, the two efforts whizzed by the outside of the post but were certainly not far off.
McCaskill’s third effort was the closest of the bunch and was destined for goal if it were not for a game-saving stop by Naeher. Using her chest from just five yards out, McCaskill was able to steer the difficult chance towards goal. However, a sprawled Naeher was able to get a solid foot on the effort to knock the threat away.
The opener for the Red Stars came in the final moments of the first half. Four minutes deep into added time, Sarah Luebbert did brilliantly to cut inside from the left flank to create space for an overlapping Mal Pugh. Seeing the space in behind the last line of defense, Luebbert executed a clever reverse ball into the path of Pugh, who expertly finished the chance first time into the bottom corner. 1-0 Chicago.
Come the second half, every heart of every Red Stars fan dropped in the 57th minute when Tatumn Milazzo took down Angel City forward Simone Charley inside the box. The referee signaled for a penalty kick.
McCaskill was the one to step up to take the kick for Angel City and succeeded in sending Alyssa Naeher the wrong way. However, the ball struck the outside of the post and rolled out of play, keeping the Red Stars in front and playoff bound.
The goal that secured the win for the Red Stars came in the 77th minute. Vanessa DiBernardo flicked on Amanda Kowalski’s long ball to Yuki Nagasato in space. Cutting back in onto her left foot, Nagasato was able to shake her defender before slamming the ball into the roof of the net from eighteen yards out.
The Red Stars put on an inspired performance Sunday night that was defined by great character and grit. With everything to play for on the night, the Red Stars simply showed more effort and desire to get the job done, and consequently, the three points and a playoff spot were theirs to take.
Now the focus shifts to the playoffs and the road to the final.
The Chicago Red Stars play their opening playoff match against the San Diego Wave in San Diego on October 16 at 9:00 PM CST.