The Chicago Red Stars continue to struggle with the same things over and over again, this time drawing their third game of the NWSL Challenge Cup 1-1 against the Kansas City NWSL team. Despite the return of the National Team players, the Red Stars repeat the same sort of performances they’ve given throughout the tournament. Let’s look at that performance.
The first half honestly didn’t have anything special in it. The Chicago Red Stars continued to control the game throughout, with Kansas City getting pretty much no chances. The only real notable plays in the half were in the 14th minute header from Julie Ertz that was saved by Katie Bowen on the line in the middle of what seemed to be a game of volleyball and then the 16th minute when Danielle Colaprico nearly hit an olympico with the help of the wind.
The second half saw more attacking presence from Kansas City, getting off to a quick start with Lo’eau LaBonta picking out Amy Rodriguez in the box in the 49th minute, only for her header to hit the side-netting. The Red Stars had their own big miss much later in the game with Rachel Hill sending her own cross in the 73rd minute to find a wide open Colaprico. Unfortunately, she didn’t take a good crack at it and the ball flew harmlessly wide.
Things seemed to pick up in the 80th minute, with a long drop-kick from Abby Smith landing in an awkward space between Chicago defender Sarah Gorden and goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher. Rodriguez took advantage of this confusion, plowing through Gorden and finishing around Naeher. The lead wouldn’t last long as only a few minutes later, a quick turnover in Kansas City’s end had Katie Johnson catching the entire back-line sleeping, resulting in the equalizer and Chicago’s first goal in over 230 minutes. The game would end with this 1-1 final.
Here are three things we learned from this game:
Is Pugh Ready?
The biggest pregame surprise for this game was the fact that Chicago Red Stars forward Mallory Pugh made it into the starting lineup. Pugh has been out with an injury for a long time and while she was expected to make some sort of an appearance in the NWSL Challenge Cup, many were surprised that she got the start instead of being a late sub. And those questions were answered when she was pulled from the game in just the 35th minute.
Mallory Pugh has an unfortunate history with injuries, especially in the NWSL. This was the risk Chicago took when they traded for her. Chicago has a recent history of bringing in players that are injury prone, namely Morgan Gautrat, and giving them an environment to finally find stable footing. Unfortunately, if she doesn’t find that stable footing, it’s a loss for the club. So taking the risk today of apparently starting Pugh before she was ready to come back seems to still be a questionable decision.
Analysis is Tough
I’m going to be honest with you guys, it’s hard to talk about this game specifically because of the nature of the Chicago Red Stars. There’s not many talking points today about the Kansas City team as they didn’t really do much of anything. Amy Rodriguez was held quiet for a lot of the game, but she made noise when she needed to. Everything else was just the Red Stars, but that wasn’t much of anything either.
The return of Julie Ertz sparked an even better press in the midfield, but as soon as the ball made it to the final third, everything fell flat. With very little options in the air for Chicago, they somehow decided to consistently play the ball wide for the cross. In one moment that stuck out, Kealia Watt was played through with an excellent ball from Casey Krueger. Watt had two defenders flanking her, but with her first touch, there was a chance to cut around the inside defender. Instead, she chose to take the touch outside, where she struggled to hold up the ball and the ensuing shot from an on-running teammate wasn’t enough to trouble the keeper.
The Red Stars attack continues to have the same problems over and over again and it’s becoming difficult to find anything else to talk about when the biggest problem is not being fixed.
Time for Solutions
Instead of continuing to complain, it’s time to figure out some actions the Chicago Red Stars could take to fix the scoring problem. The first easiest route to fixing things is for someone to step up, but this is clearly just not happening. The Red Stars attack is filled with players that are good at being key pieces of a quality attack, but together do not create a quality attack themselves.Mallory Pugh, Kealia Watt, and Katie Johnson just aren’t proven goalscorers in the NWSL. The second route is a signing, which recently Rory Dames made allusions to in a pre-game press conference. He said that there were two targets, but not what positions they play. So it’s possible they might just be defenders to add depth to a back-line that honestly does need another center-back.
The third possibility is trading within the league for a better striker. This is difficult and risky, but it’s also something that I’d trust the Red Stars front office to do well. Chicago’s had amazing success with trading within the league. The problem is that it’s harder to make a deal that’s good for you when you’re at a clear disadvantage. It’s probably not possible for them to make a trade for someone like Jessica MacDonald or Midge Purce without giving up too much, but there are still some other gambles that could work out.
My personal suggestion? The Red Stars trade Tierna Davidson to the Washington Spirit for Kumi Yokoyama and allocation money. Why this deal? Tierna Davidson is a solid center-back, but she’s shown to be a fairly raw talent. She’s struggled on her own at times in the 2019 season and while she’s a quality player, she’s a loss that the team can handle. As for Kumi Yokoyama, she’s not the proven NWSL scorer that MacDonald and Purce are, but she’s a cheaper gamble. So cheap, that in order to balance the trade out some allocation money needs to go to Chicago. Yokoyama may not be a big scorer in the NWSL, but in 114 total appearances in the Nadeshiko League she scored 96 goals. While not a consistent scorer in the NWSL or for the Japanese Women’s National Team, she could potentially blossom for a team with quality service.
Something to consider.