Chicago Red Stars vs Houston Dash: A Flash With No Bang

HERRIMAN, UTAH - JULY 17: Kristie Mewis #19 of Houston Dash looks on during the quarterfinal match of the NWSL Challenge Cup at Zions Bank Stadium on July 17, 2020 in Herriman, Utah. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
HERRIMAN, UTAH - JULY 17: Kristie Mewis #19 of Houston Dash looks on during the quarterfinal match of the NWSL Challenge Cup at Zions Bank Stadium on July 17, 2020 in Herriman, Utah. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

It wasn’t a good day for either Chicago soccer team as the Chicago Red Stars shared a similar fate to their brothers by giving up a game-winning goal after the 80th minute. At the very least, the Red Stars picked up a goal in the 2-1 loss away to the Houston Dash. Here’s a look at the game:

Most of the action happened within the first 20 minutes of the game. In the 4th minute, Mallory pugh got just a bit too much space while cutting into the box and she buried it into the back of the net. Then, in the 7th minute, Nichele Prince was given a golden opportunity off of a through ball from Rachel Daly, but just couldn’t put the shot on goal. She’d avenge herself in the 18th minute when she chipped in a ball that no one was expecting from the elbow of the box, picking up the equalizer. While there were some other chances in the half, not much actually happened for the rest of the half.

Chicago started the second half with a 48th minute cross from Sarah Gorden to Morgan Gautrat, but it would be sent wide. Same for a 58th minute shot from Kealia Watt after trying to do her best impression of the earlier Pugh goal. The 55th minute was interesting, with a freekick leading to Kayla Sharples with an empty net in front of her. Unfortunately, she just couldn’t untangle her legs from the defender behind her. Despite all the chances for the Red Stars, Houston would come away with the victory when an 83rd minute cross from Sophia Schmidt was sent home by Kristie Mewis on the back post. That would be it for the game.

Here are three things to note from this match:

Not-That-Dynamic Duo

The Chicago Red Stars may have finally found their scoring stride again with the brilliant play of Mallory Pugh. Her re-emergence has meant incredibly good things for a Red Stars side that seemed lacking for creativity in the final third. But as said many times before, she’s not normally the type to finish off her own chances. The one who does usually get the final shot on Pugh’s chances is Kealia Watt who hasn’t really proven to be that reliable at finishing.

On Wednesday, Pugh and Watt teamed up for the first goal of that night and in Houston they started a play that looked almost identical to that one. Only Watt’s shot wasn’t deflected and was easily saved by Jane Campbell. In fact, Watt’s 58th minute shot was probably one of the best straight-up chances of the night, even better than Sharples’ empty netter, and she couldn’t convert.

As I’ve been saying all season so far, Watt is a good player, but she’s not the finisher the Red Stars need. And Pugh isn’t really that finisher either. Until that happens, the Red Stars are going to continue to create a whole load of chances that no one will be able to convert on.

Questionable Subs

A small issue that continues to bug me while watching the way coach Rory Dames has been running the Chicago Red Stars this season is the way he’s been handling substitutions. It took until the 84th minute, after Houston’s go-ahead goal, for Rory to put on any fresh legs. In fact, it could be argued that the goal came from a tired Sarah Gorden unable to track back to cover Mewis on that far post.

This isn’t a major issue, but it’s becoming more noticeable that maybe Rory doesn’t trust the bench. This is a short week for the Red Stars and there’s obviously going to be some players that will be more tired than others, but it’s still somewhat concerning that the depth isn’t being used as deeply as it had been in the club’s recent past.

Dry Your Eyes

Now, I don’t want to scare anyone away after this game. Despite the final score and despite the continued questions about the attack and the bench, the Chicago Red Stars still played a pretty dang good game. They deserved a win and they didn’t get it. Unlike other Chicago soccer teams, they’ve proven that they can bounce back in a season and make up for lost chances. What happened in Houston should be concerning, but it’s not as much of a panic button press that the Portland game was.

Obviously, questions still remain about Rory and the attack, but overall the team has been able to handle pressure better and just increase the volume of chances enough to make the odds of scoring high enough that they actually get a goal or two. They just need to try to continue that pace until the rumored reinforcement comes (if it ever comes).