Chicago Red Stars vs Washington Spirit: A rookie focus

Chicago Red Stars (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Chicago Red Stars (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

The Chicago Red Stars might have lost but are heading in the right direction

NWSL soccer has returned for the Chicago Red Stars, but not quite as they wanted it as they fall in the first game of the Fall Series to the Washington Spirit 2-1 after a game-winner in injury time. Despite the score-line, the Red Stars seemed to be massively improved in their attacking efforts than how they looked in the Challenge Cup.

This is even more impressive considering the lack of first-team starters all around the pitch. And for the Spirit, this is proof that they’re still contenders despite the losses they’ve taken in their own lineup. But let’s take a look at the game itself first.

The first half started with the Washington Spirit holding most of the possession, but the Chicago Red Stars made consistent counter attacks that looked far more dangerous than anything the Spirit put together.

The Chicago Red Stars never gave up in loss to the Washington Spirit

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In fact, in the 24th minute, Savannah McCaskill played a ball out wide for Kealia Watt to cross in, which ended up getting right in front of Sarah Luebbert to finish past a frozen Aubrey Bledsoe.

This goal really put Chicago in the driver’s seat as they began to get more aggressive. Maybe a bit too aggressive as just before the start of added time, Savannah McCaskill flew into a tackle against a Washington attacker and received a second yellow card, leaving the Red Stars down to 10 for the rest of the game.

With the Chicago Red Stars down a player in the second half, the Washington Spirit started to step up. In the 71st minute, a cross was played into the box for Washington and after bouncing around, it was sent to the back of the net by a sliding Bayley Feist.

With the game leveled, Washington began to add even more pressure onto the Red Stars, with a major chance in the 85th minute that saw Alyssa Naeher somehow keeping the ball out of the net on a messy corner kick. But that didn’t mean the Red Stars were out of it, as right after that chance for Washington, Chicago came right back at the other end with a massive shot from Watt and an impressive follow-up save from Bledsoe on the rebound from Dani Rhodes.

In the end, Washington would break the tie with a goal in the 93rd minute from Jessie Scarpa at the far post after some amazing moves from Crystal Thomas to even deliver the cross.

Here’s what we learned from this game:

Rookie Focus

With much of the league’s regular players gone to Europe for the Winter, most of the NWSL is being forced to look deep within their roster for new players that can step up and fill those holes if they are made permanent. While the Chicago Red Stars saw a lot of these players making their debuts in the Challenge Cup, many of them still hadn’t quite made a mark yet. Bianca St. Georges continued to impress as well as Hannah Davison. The goal scorer was also a rookie, with undrafted free agent Sarah Luebbert being the one on the end of the cross from Watt.

For the Washington Spirit, they weren’t quite so shorthanded; but Ashley Sanchez continued to shine in most of their attacking opportunities. Both goals were also made by fairly new players. Bayley Feist was a 2019 draft pick who had made limited appearances before this game and Jessie Scarpa’s debut was just last week against Sky Blue FC. Both were able to make a massive mark on this game.

All in all, the Fall Series will probably look even more like a pre-season than the Challenge Cup, but even more fun with more players getting opportunities to see the pitch that they otherwise wouldn’t have.

The Duplicity of Savannah McCaskill

Savannah McCaskill is one of the most confusing players in the NWSL. Her main style of play for the Chicago Red Stars is to be a pest, pressuring the defense constantly, but she’s also one of the best technical players on the team. She has all of the abilities and opportunities to be a goalscorer but has gotten more assists than goals. At times she’s a liability on the pitch, other times she’s the most impressive one out there. You really never know what to expect with her.

That puts this game into perspective as we saw both sides of her on display here. After a lead-up into the game that touted this as her big opportunity to prove her worth, she absolutely did so with some great passing.

She remained dangerous in that first half, pumping in some great crosses and even being the one to find Kealia Watt out on the wing in a play that led to Chicago’s only goal of the match. But despite this quality play, McCaskill found herself out of the game after two first-half yellow cards, the second of which could’ve easily been a straight red.

McCaskill is going to be an important player for this club, but she needs to remain consistent. We’ve seen flashes of something so much better and have seen that consistently, but she needs to be able to stay on the pitch for longer. Last season she was used by coach Rory Dames as a late sub but is now getting more of an opportunity as a starter and she needs to convert on that.

Technical Difficulties

The NWSL’s media history is filled with technical difficulties. From the days of the “Go90” App to post-game shows being cut short in favor of “Lifetime” movies. This game was no different. With the NWSL Challenge Cup being exclusive to CBS in North America, the NWSL Twitch channel was made exclusive to those outside of the US and Canada.

However, the Fall Series is not exclusive and most games aren’t on CBS or even CBS All-Access. With this being the case, almost all games are to be streamed on Twitch, aside from a few designated to go on CBS. Apparently, those running the NWSL Twitch channel had yet to switch the geo-lock off, keeping American and Canadian audiences from watching the first 7 minutes or so.

This is mostly an explanation for something that a lot of fans, especially newer fans, had trouble with. Hopefully, things like this can be fixed in the future, but NWSL seems to simply be plagued by technical issues.

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Just after the stream was finally made available to everyone, the cameras cut out for a good couple minutes. Not to mention the fact that the pitch was already being prepared for a Loudoun United match later that day while this game was at half-time. But with the league continuing to grow, there should be confidence that things will get better.