While not quite the start the Chicago Red Stars wanted, a 0-0 draw with Gotham FC is a much better place to begin the season than what happened in the previous game. Despite not playing any different than they have all year, the Red Stars managed to hold Gotham silent on offense and sat in the driver’s seat for much of the second half. Unfortunately, it’s the “scoring a goal” bit that still sticks out as an issue for Chicago. Let’s go into what happened.
Gotham FC was most active in the first half, getting an early chance in the 14th minute when Carli Lloyd put a shot over Alyssa Naeher, but that ball would pop right back out off the crossbar. Kealia Watt found a chance for the Chicago Red Stars in the 28th minute, curling a ball towards the far post, but Kailen Sheridan was able to dive in time to make the save. Gotham found the crossbar again in the 40th minute when an Evelyne Viens header was sent straight back down by the metal.
The second half was a whole lot quieter from Gotham FC, but the Chicago Red Stars weren’t doing much either. In the 68th minute, Mallory Pugh was able to chase down a heavy pass and crossed it into the box for Kealia Watt, but Watt just couldn’t get a foot to it. The only other notable chance was in the 76th minute when Pugh slid a low cross into the box for anyone to just get a touch on for a goal. Unfortunately, none of the three Red Stars in the box were able to do anything as it rolled harmlessly into the corner.
Here are three things we learned from the Red Stars’ home opener.
We’ll be Alright (on Defense)
One of the biggest things to look for in a team coming back from a big loss is how the defense reacts. Not only did the Chicago Red Stars struggle last week in Portland, but they also lost their best defender, Julie Ertz, to an injury. Luckily, it appears that Ertz won’t be out for long, although she won’t be coming back for Chicago until after the Olympics. But maybe the most essential player to the Red Stars defense isn’t Ertz, but Morgan Gautrat.
Coach Rory Dames had spoken a lot in the preseason about how important Gautrat is to this team, but in a role that’s different from what she’s usually in. Up until this point, Gautrat’s been more about being a facilitating midfielder, carrying the ball from the defense into the attack and keeping the attack going. Now, she’s much more of a ball-winner. Not a traditional defensive midfielder, but enough of a defensive presence that it helps the defense a lot when it comes to limiting chances for the opponent.
With this in mind, maybe the Red Stars defense will be alright without Ertz. Or maybe it means that the team will be worse again if Gautrat also ends up going to the Olympics.
After following bad Chicago soccer teams for a while, you notice a certain pattern from coaches who are scrambling to make something work. A kick-and-run style over the top, a sudden shift in tactics to play for a draw, and, the thing I saw from the Chicago Red Stars Saturday night, a lack of substitutions. Whether it’s a lack of faith in your depth or an extreme faith in the players already on the pitch, it’s a big red flag when you see just a single sub made by coach Rory Dames in the 82nd minute.
Chicago has legendarily been a really deep team throughout Dames’ tenure, having players on the bench that would be starters elsewhere in the league. But after this recent talent shift in the NWSL, his lack of faith in the bench is concerning. Gotham FC has that sort of deep bench to the point that they’re bringing off proven goalscorers like Nahomi Kawasumi and Ifeoma Onumonu later in the game to help provide fresh legs. Meanwhile, much of the Red Stars’ attack were obviously tired by the time the 80th minute came around, indicated by that wasted chance in the 76th minute when nobody was able to get to the ball in the box.
As I said, this could be a lack of faith or too much faith, but either way this is certainly something to keep an eye on going forward.
In 2019, when certain Chicago Red Stars players went off to the World Cup, the Red Stars didn’t score a single goal. That was three games. No goals. All because they lacked one player. In fact, in the game before the certain player left and the game after this certain player came back, no player other than the unnamed player scored a single goal. Look, we all saw the signs and knew what was going to happen to this team the moment a certain Australian striker left for Chelsea. This is not new, the evidence was right there.
Now, in 2021, the Chicago Red Stars have scored 3 goals in 6 games and have been shut-out for 4 of those games. And it’s not like the Red Stars aren’t creating chances. This game, the Red Stars had a 1.66 xG, yet scored 0 actual Gs. It’s hard to keep finding different excuses and ways to say the same thing. At this point, the Mallory Pugh/Kealia Watt connection is just not a goalscoring connection. It’s a connection that can create chances, but neither seem to be the one who can finish them.
At this point, no one knows who the new European signing is going to be. And at this point, it honestly doesn’t matter if it’s Sam Kerr or someone else. What the Red Stars need is a goal-scorer. A pure goal-scorer. Anything less will result in the same stagnant attack.