Quarter finals have been thrilling so far. With the Thorns prevailing over the Courage and then Dash and Sky Blue winning in penalties, it's been dramatic to say the least. Interestingly, the lower seeded team (except Dash) as well as the team backed by the Orlando Stan account have won every time. That curse is very real and based on this, looks like Chicago will be progressing today.
On paper, OL Reign have put up a very strong team with Fishlock finally starting. Cruz, Huerta, Taylor, Cook and Barnes are also starting and Murphy replaces Betos in goal.
Chicago's line up isn't too shabby either. Ertz is leading them out, Naeher will be solid in goals as always and Johnson, Hill and Watt are up the front. Full starting line up for today's match is as follows:
Chicago Red Stars
1 Alyssa Naeher
11 Sarah Gorden
8 Julie Ertz
29 Bianca St Georges
6 Casey Short
24 Danielle Colaprico
10 Vanessa Dibernado
9 Savannah McCaskill
33 Katie Johnson
5 Rachel Hill
2 Kealia Watt
26 Casey Murphy
3 Lauren Barnes
2 Amber Brooks
4 Alana Cook
14 Steph Cox
19 Kristen McNabb
10 Jessica Fishlock
28 Shirley Cruz
11 Darien Jenkins
9 Jodie Taylor
20 Sofia Huerta
Game kicks off in the early evening. McCaskill takes an early long, low shot that results in the first corner for Chicago. McCaskill sends it to the far post where Ertz nearly gets it in but sends it back across the face of goal and out by the left post. More possession by Chicago early on and consistent pressure is being applied.
This is the last match where we have to suffer the glare and it's in full effect now. Ertz is dominating in the midfield early on. Hill goes down the right to the back of the box and sends the ball to Johnson who takes a shot that hits the crossbar. Two cms lower and it might have gone in.
Finally down the other end for an OL Reign corner. Cruz sends it skyward from the back of the box and it's safely gathered by Naeher.
Ertz sends a long ball to Hill who crosses but no-one can get to it. Reign with a period of possession that sees the ball in and out of the box with no shots on goal until they give away a foul and Jenkins earns a yellow card. They get possession back from the free kick and Cruz takes a shot that sails over the crossbar. Another long shot by Jenkins goes wide. Cruz sends another long one into Naeher's arms.
Down the right, Taylor passes to Cruz who is clear in front of goal but she can't control it and falls over. Back to Huerta and St Georges pushes her in the back and there's a foul. Barnes to take it. She sends it to the near post and Taylor is right on it but she just pokes it straight to Naeher. That could have easily been a goal with a bit more purpose and direction.
Fishlock takes the first decent shot on goal from inside the box and Naeher blocks it and sends it out for a corner. The corner goes to the far post but bounces around and is sent out by Gorden for another corner. Cox is taking it and kicks to the near post and it's cleared.
There's a lot more pressure now by OL Reign as they seemed to have settled into the game. The ball is up and down the field and Huerta is dragged down during a battle on the left of the box for a foul. The ball glides over the wall but Taylor heads it out to the left of goal.
It's straight back down the right for Chicago. A skirmish between St Georges and Cruz ends up with Cruz on the ground and an OL Reign kick. Another battle with Cruz sees a Chicago free kick that is safe into the arms of Murphy. Taylor gets another free kick in midfield that sends McCaskill into the box. It bounces around in and out of the box and Watt gets a shot to goal but is offside. It's safe with Murphy anyway.
There's some sustained pressure by the Red Stars with a few crosses by Hill. At one stage Watt had a clear shot but passes instead of going for it and nothing comes of it. There's three minutes of extra time. The final attack by Reign before half time comes to nothing.
Both teams have had dangerous moments with marginally more shots by OL Reign but no one really dominating despite Reign's 61% possession. It's still very open. Reign has had 7 shots to Chicago's 4 with two on target verses one.
Same teams come back on at half time with no changes. There's an early breakaway by Chicago that can't be capitalised on. A Chicago corner results in a high lob to the back post which is eventually gathered by Murphy. Huerta sends a one touch rocket high over goal.
A good cross by Short is headed away. The throw in to Dibernado by Watt goes wide to the right for a corner. Short's header off the corner goes to the left. Chicago is looking a lot more organised and applying more pressure this half.
An OL Reign corner sees a hard and fast header from Huerta punched away by Naeher. Cruz is sandwiched for a foul which Cox takes but it comes to nothing. A McNabb to Jenkins cross is also headed away by Ertz.
Up the other end and Watt dribbles in goal past two defenders but sends it just to the left of goal. Bit of a heart starter though as she could have a scored there.
Fishlock is off and Balcer on so I guess we won't see a promised Fishlock goal celebration on the playground. Meg Linehan had promised a large donation to charity if anyone did it.
Straight up Balcer has a good run down the left side but can't connect directly with anyone with her pass into the box. Huerta takes a distance shot gathered up by Naeher in the bottom left corner.
McNabb hits a long range shot that makes Naeher do the save of the match, stretching to the top right corner to push it out. The corner results in a foul by Watt on Huerta at the top of the box. She lost her boot in the challenge. Cox and Barnes line up for the free kick and Barnes takes it but sends it over the cross bar.
Taylor is off, Momiki on, Cox off, Celia on, McCaskill off, Ella Stevens on, Johnson off, Vasconcelos on. On her first touch, Stevens goes straight down with an injury. It's her knee and doesn't look good. They go for the hydration break as she gets treated. She's back up and walks off so it can't be an ACL thank goodness. Stevens comes back on but Doniak is sent on immediately to replace her for the shortest appearance in a game.
There's another Chicago corner and Dibernado sends it to the back post. It's cleared but Dibernado lobs it straight back in and it's caught by Murphy.
With ten minutes left, it's still 0-0 so will we see more PKs? It's been feeling like a goal is inevitable but the defence on both teams is holding strong.
Coloprico goes down with a cramp. A Celia lob goes to Jenkins who heads it down and bounces it to goal. Naeher gets a hand to it to send it out on the right. The resulting corner bounces around and another lob by Celia is punched out by Naeher. A give and go between Celia and Cook sees Celia fouled on the right of the box. Momiki takes it and sends it to the back post but it goes out. The clock is ticking down towards PKs.
Watt and Huerta clash again and are both down. There's four minutes of stoppage time. Huerta is cramping and goes off to be replaced by Canadian Rebecca Quinn.
Chicago attack. Short throw in to Watt who shoots straight into Murphy's arms. The final whistle goes so we're off to PKs once more. It's disappointing no-one could score as there were plenty of attempts.
Cruz is up first to take the penalty. She sends it high and to the right. Doh! Reign not off to a good start. 0-0 Ertz connects with an upper right bullet which sends Murphy the wrong way. 0-1
Momiki sends a left footed kick high to the middle right while Naeher went to the left, for OL's first successful PK. 1-1 Dibernado sends her shot to the right and straight in. Murphy went right but couldn't reach it. 1-2
Jenkins hits the bottom of the crossbar mid left and it goes in. Naeher went to the right so had no chance. Lucky it went in though. 2-2 Watt is up next and they aren't mucking around between shots. Watt's shot is high and left and straight in as Murphy went to the right. 2-3
Balcer looks calm as she comes up for her kick. She sends a slow one to the left and Naeher went left but didn't get a hand to it. 3-3 Hill sends her shot to the upper right. Murphy guessed correctly but couldn't reach it. 3-4
Barnes has to get this in for OL to stay in it but her shot hits the left post and despite Naeher going right, it bounces back out and she misses her shot and it's all over, red rover. Chicago don't need to take their final shot and it's 0-0 (3-4) for the Chicago win.
The Chicago team rush up to Naeher but she calms their excitement down saying that wasn't down to me so don't even think about jumping all over me. Sensible Uncle on board. The Orlando Stan account curse is in full effect and has worked again.
Chicago is through to the semis and will meet Sky Blue next Wednesday for the night game. The morning game will be Portland Thorns against Houston Dash. This is the last match to be played at Zion Bank Stadium and the semis and final move to Rio Tinto Stadium and some real grass. Goodbye playground, goodbye farm, goodbye coffee truck, goodbye turf burns. Still no spectators though.
By Kris Goman
Photo Credit: Nikki Flores @ Footy Day Photos