The Chicago Red Stars came into the 2022 Challenge Cup with lots of questions and entered uncharted waters as the club hired a new head coach for the first time in a decade. Many of those questions were put to rest with a dominant 3-1 win on opening day in Houston. After conceding first, the Red Stars bounced back scoring three unanswered, with Mal Pugh scoring either side of the half.
“It was what we were hoping for,” said head coach Chris Petrucelli following his first win as a coach in professional soccer. “We are hoping to be a team that can create goalscoring chances, score goals, and be stingy defensively, and I think that is a good summary of the match.”
The visiting Red Stars started the game in firm control, dominating possession in the opening minutes. Ella Stevens lined up in an unfamiliar role up top, but the rest of the lineup was close to the strongest possible given the players available. Houston scored the game’s opening goal against the run of play; a Rachel Daly free-kick from a long way out bounced awkwardly in the box, and while Alyssa Naeher was able to keep it out of the net, it went straight into the path of former Red Star Katie Naughton, who tapped in the rebound.
There was a quick response, though. Immediately, Yuki Nagasato and Ella Stevens combined to create another scoring opportunity for Mal Pugh, whose attempted volley was saved. Seven minutes later, the equalizer finally arrived, with Pugh scoring on the rebound of her own shot. It was a very nice move where her quality on the ball was on full display.
In the second half, the Red Stars' attack kept flowing. Pugh came close with a shot inside the box, and debutant Ava Cook forced Jane Campbell to make a very nice save. In the 57th minute, a foul was called against the Dash on a Red Stars corner, resulting in a penalty kick. Arin Wright stepped up and converted the kick to give the Red Stars the lead.
Two minutes later, Mal Pugh provided the insurance goal, hitting a powerful shot from outside the box. It was an excellent moment in transition as Colaprico pounced on a loose ball before providing the assist. Pugh had another great game, showing why she was an MVP candidate last year.
It should be noted that Houston was dealing with some absences—numerous players tested positive for COVID, and they entered this game with a somewhat depleted squad—but nonetheless, the Red Stars are playing exciting, possession-oriented, attacking soccer. If this team can continue to look good against stronger opposition, especially when Rachel Hill and Morgan Gautrat return to the fold in the coming weeks, the Red Stars can be a contender once again.
After such a strong performance, coach Petrucelli emphasized that the team was far from the finished product, despite the positive result: “We have a lot of room to grow. We can get a lot better... but its a good start.”