Chicago Red Stars vs Sky Blue FC: Coming back is hard

Chicago Red Stars (Photo by Tony Quinn/ISI Photos/Getty Images).
Chicago Red Stars (Photo by Tony Quinn/ISI Photos/Getty Images). /

The Chicago Red Stars were unable to come back when it mattered most

For the last game of the season, this didn’t really feel like it. The Chicago Red Stars put out their true first choice lineup for the first time in this Fall Series and Sky Blue FC took advantage of the fact that some key players in that lineup hadn’t played in months. But before talking about rustiness and tactics, let’s go over what happened.

The first half started off fairly even. The play looked back and forth for the first ten minutes. In the 12th minute, Tierna Davidson was given a straight red on a late tackle, but that booking was lowered to a yellow after the assistant referee pointed out that it was not a DOGSO call. The Chicago Red Stars seemed to take a bit of a jump from that, holding onto the ball a lot more.

In fact, the Red Stars held most of the possession in the first half but just couldn’t convert. In the 25th minute, Midge Purce found an opening behind Casey Short and played the ball into the box, barely reaching Paige Monaghan who slotted it home. In the 34th minute it was Monaghan who found her own opening for a cross.

This time it was Ifeoma Onumonu who was one step ahead of the defense to put it behind Alyssa Naeher. Then, two minutes into added time for the first half, Sky Blue FC found another goal between Purce and Monaghan when Purce muscled past Short to cross a ball to the back post where Monaghan was left unmarked

The second half was a lot quieter from Sky Blue FC, but the Chicago Red Stars continued to press. The problem was just that they simply could not get past the Sky Blue defense and Kailen Sheridan. Instead of their strategy in the last game, Chicago attempted to try to break through the defense instead of using their speed to get past them.

But a goal simply would not come out of that strategy. The only consolation that the Red Stars would get came from an 88th free-kick when a Morgan Gautrat header barely got past Sheridan, despite an impressive tip that had to bounce off the post to go in. The game would end 3-1 for Sky Blue.

Here’s what we learned from this disappointing end to 2020 for the Chicago Red Stars:

World Turned Upside-Down

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After a dominant performance at home against Sky Blue FC, the Chicago Red Stars came into this game with a pretty big advantage. They had found weak points in their opponent and exploited them.

Those same weak points were there and Chicago still had the same advantage. But somehow, the coaches’ whiteboards must’ve gotten switched because what happened out there was the exact reverse of what happened just a few weeks ago.

Sky Blue FC did not sit back with the ball, mostly because they weren’t seeing a lot of the ball. Instead, the Chicago Red Stars were the team that had the most possession and were using it to attempt to break down the Sky Blue defense.

Unfortunately, that made their attackers’ speed almost irrelevant, with a bigger focus on trying to make unlocking passes. And back on the other end, it was Sky Blue who was blowing past the Chicago defense to find immediate counter-attack opportunities. While the Red Stars defense had a lot of the speed to catch up, the attack itself was just a step ahead of Chicago for most of the first half.

The Rise of Sarah Luebbert

This is less a takeaway on the game itself and more a takeaway from the starting lineup. The entire 2020 season for the Chicago Red Stars has essentially been about giving chances to young players. Most of the team was back for the NWSL Challenge Cup, but coach Rory Dames made a commitment to rotate the squad regularly during the tournament and the Fall Series later on. This allowed for a couple of players to stand out that wouldn’t have otherwise gotten an opportunity.

During the Challenge Cup, the one player who worked her way into a starting role was Bianca St Georges who gave an amazing performance at right back for the entire tournament. In the Fall Series, the Chicago Red Stars lost a lot of their attacking talent on loan to Europe.

So they ended up sending on a previously undrafted player in Sarah Luebbert, who found her way to a goal and two assists in her four starts. Both were in the starting lineup today for a team that seemed to be the first choice squad going forward into next season. It’s always fun to see players get chances to shine and succeed in those chances.

Coming Back is Hard

Returning from injury is already a difficult task, not only the physical toll of trying to get your body back into peak performance level, but also mentally with not being able to play for a certain extended amount of time.

This game saw a couple of returns from injury for the Chicago Red Stars with Casey Short and Tierna Davidson getting their first starts of the Fall Series and Arin Wright making her first appearance since last year when she left mid-season on maternity leave. Despite the fact that all three are really good soccer players, they didn’t really look like it today.

The main story was Casey Short, who hadn’t seen the pitch at all since the semi-final of the NWSL Challenge Cup. Short has been one of the most consistent Chicago Red Stars players since she joined the team back in 2016.

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In this game, she was absolutely embarrassed by Midge Purce on the flank, getting beat by Purce for two of the three goals in the first half. This situation is concerning, but you can attribute this unfortunate performance to simple rustiness. It’s just disappointing that this was the last performance of a solid 2020 season.