Chicago Red Stars vs Kansas City: And Breathe

HERRIMAN, UT - JULY 18: Kealia Watt #2 of Chicago Red Stars takes penalty kick during a game between Chicago Red Stars and OL Reign at Zions Bank Stadium on July 18, 2020 in Herriman, Utah. (Photo by Bryan Byerly/ISI Photos/Getty Images).
HERRIMAN, UT - JULY 18: Kealia Watt #2 of Chicago Red Stars takes penalty kick during a game between Chicago Red Stars and OL Reign at Zions Bank Stadium on July 18, 2020 in Herriman, Utah. (Photo by Bryan Byerly/ISI Photos/Getty Images). /

After a long stretch without a single goal scored by the Chicago Red Stars, fans can finally sleep easy knowing that Chicago won a game 2-0 against Kansas City. It’s been a rough start to the season and while this doesn’t mean things are back to “normal,” it’s certainly a welcome sight. Let’s get into the game.

The start of the game seemed to be tilted over towards Kansas City, with two big corner kicks in the 7th and 9th minutes when Alyssa Naeher was called to stop a possible Olympico and getting in front of a point blank header. Naeher would have another point blank save against Mariana Larroquette in the 26th minute after Amy Rodriguez drove into the box and laid it off to the wide open Argentinian. But by the 30th minute, the Chicago Red Stars started stepping into the game a bit more, culminating in a 36th minute melee in front of the net after a Makenzy Doniak shot created a rebound that somehow wouldn’t go in despite everything the Red Stars could muster.

It was the second half where things began calming down for both teams. The Chicago Red Stars seemed to have taken control, although they didn’t feel that dangerous on the attack. This changed after both Kealia Watt and Mallory Pugh checked into the game at the 60th minute. The Kansas City defense, faced with the best attackers on Chicago running on fresh legs after an hour of play, did not handle this well. Pugh kicked it off with a great through ball to Watt in the 68th minute that ended with a long shot to the back of the net. In the 70th minute, a Kansas City defender lost track of Doniak, giving her the ball, and Doniak played a wonderful 1-2 with Pugh for the second goal. Despite a late penalty shout from Amy Rodriguez in the 85th minute, the 2-1 score to the Red Stars would be final.

Here are three things we learned from the Red Stars’ first win of the season.

Ruled by Fear

Despite scoring two goals later in the game for the win, there were still issues with finishing earlier in the game. But these issues seemed to be less about ability to score and more about how calm the Kansas City defense seemed to be with the Chicago Red Stars attack. In fact, early in the second half it seemed like Kansas City actually pulled back on defending the Red Stars when in their own third because Chicago had proven that they just didn’t have that attacking threat. It was only when Mallory Pugh and Kealia Watt came on and showed an intent to score that they really did anything.

Though not entirely scientific, I think that one of the biggest tools that a team’s attack has is intimidation. Making the defense fear the attack, making them unsure of who they should mark. When there is a single player they fear and mark tightly, it allows space for other players to run on and fill in. That’s when players like Vanessa DiBernardo score on second balls. But when the defense doesn’t fear you, they play a more rigid and structured defensive style, which is obviously harder to get around.

The Chicago Red Stars need to score even more so they can start working with this fear again.

Mal’s Audition

A notable spectator at this match was US Women’s National Team coach Vlatko Andonovski, who recently announced the pre-Olympics training camp roster. Making the list and playing in this game were Alyssa Naeher and Tierna Davidson. Notably not making the list and still playing in this game was Mallory Pugh, who put on a show after coming on in the 60th minute and picking up both assists in the game.

Pugh has had issues in the past with injuries that have plagued her entire career, especially in the NWSL. On this night, Pugh was working to prove that she still had the quality to make it onto the Olympic squad that he has yet to fully finalize. There are players in the training camp that will not make the Olympic roster, but there also those not at the training camp that might still have a chance to impress Vlatko and make it to Tokyo this summer.

At Last

All in all, it’s just great to see the Chicago Red Stars scoring goals again. As I said in the preview, all they needed was one goal to prove that they could still do it. After the melee in the 36th minute, there was an immediate reaction from the fan-base that the Red Stars must have angered some sort of deity, but two goals should be calming. The biggest thing now is to take this momentum and carry it through to at least the end of the week when they go to Houston for their next match.