In a battle to stay out of last place, Chicago Red Stars head coach Rory Dames chose to stick with his pre-Cup scripted line up, resting key players Morgan Brian, Julie Ertz, Yuki Nagasato, and Alyssa Naeher in favor of a completely new starting XI. While Thorns stalwarts Lindsey Horan, Christine Sinclair, and Meghan Klingenburg remained in the Portland line up, the relatively inexperienced Chicago side was able to pull out a point, hanging on through a Thorns onslaught midway through the first half and again just before the final whistle to preserve the 0-0 tie. Portland played the game without USWNT defender Becky Sauerbrunn (hip), goalkeeper AD Franch (knee), and winger Tobin Heath (opted out). Red Star Danny Colaprico worked her way back into the starting lineup, coming off of injury.
The match between the Thorns and Red Stars was a highly anticipated one, the first time the two teams have met since the 2019 NWSL semifinal that saw Red Stars phenom Sam Kerr score an early goal, and the Chicago defense grind out a shutout against a struggling Portland front line. Kerr, the three-time NWSL Golden Boot winner, has since moved on to English side Chelsea, leaving a massive hole in the Red Stars offense.
With such dramatic roster changes, both teams lacked chemistry early on, and nerves seemed to be getting the better of players making club debuts. In the first minute of the game, backup goalkeeper Emily Boyd was caught out of the box in a scary moment for the Red Stars, but the Thorns were unable to capitalize. As both teams struggled to work into a rhythm, Portland found Canadian captain Sinclair dropping back to work in combination with Horan to free rookie Morgan Weaver, seeing her first start for the Thorns, and Simone Charley, up top.
The best opportunity of the half came in the 14th minute. Thorns midfielder Celeste Boureille sent a beautiful lofted ball to the top of the six for Weaver, who timed her run perfectly. Her volley was tipped over the crossbar thanks to a reaction save by Boyd. That save was the Save of the Match.
As the match became more physical, National Teamers Horan and Sinclair did not hold back, unafraid to get into the mix at midfield and bring a much-needed physicality to the game. During much of the first half, the Thorns tried to run their offense through Horan, repeatedly looking to serve balls in to her head. In the 18th minute, Charley’s cross from out wide on the right side connected with Horan, but the header went straight to Boyd. Thirteen minutes later, another mistake by Boyd on Klingenberg’s corner allowed Horan to settle the ball in traffic, but her shot went over the crossbar. Moments later, she was at the opposite end of the field, defending on her own end line. A true box-to-box midfielder, the over-reliance on Horan appears to be a concern for a team that is not yet equipped to provide her with adequate support offensively. Of note, Horan finished the match with a ridiculously impressive 93% passing accuracy, leading all players.
Chicago struggled to find its width, and with Portland transitioning quickly to get behind the ball on turnovers, the Red Stars were unable to break through the Thorns solid core. The team had very few opportunities on goal in the first 45 minutes, but Makenzy Doniak and Sarah Luebbert did great defensive work from their positions higher up the pitch, and the local pairing of Northwestern grads Kayla Sharples and Hannah Davison on the backline were able to keep the Thorns offense at bay. This was the first start for Sharples and Davison.
The teams went into the changing room tied 0-0 at the half, with Portland leading in possession, shots, and fouls. Chicago did not have a single shot on target.
To start the second half, Red Stars backup goalkeeper Clarissa Miller was subbed on for Boyd, and Illinois native Cassie Rohan got her first minutes as a Red Star. The team came out looking far more connected after the break, building up some combination play, maintaining possession, and winning a corner in the opening minutes, but the ball was played across the box, untouched by anyone in white. Chicago began to spring their outside backs into the attack, looking to exploit Portland’s narrowness and lack of strength on the wings. A switch from the right side, five minutes in, freed Katie Johnson down the left flank. She was able to cut into the box and dropped the ball back for McCaskill, but McCaskill’s shot sailed over the crossbar. Chicago used all five of its allowed subs, also bringing on Rachel Hill, Michele Vasconcelos, and Zoe Redei.
Portland countered three minutes later, with Horan’s driven shot deflected and saved by Miller. Five minutes after that, Horan took a crack from distance, beating a defender and hitting a low driven shot that went just wide of frame. Still looking for Horan, Smithers played a cross into the box in the 67th minute, but it was picked off by the 5’11” Miller. Horan’s day came to a close at the 69th minute mark, as Costa Rican National Teamer Rocky Rodriguez stepped on to take over in midfield. Rodriguez had an excellent look from the top of the box just four minutes into her appearance, but her shot ran wide.
Portland began making substitutions at the half, with center back Emily Menges swapping on for Klingenberg, who looked out of sorts this game, her typical accuracy lacking. Spark plug Tyler Lussi subbed on for Weaver, who looked quite settled this match. As the 2nd overall pick in the 2020 College Draft, Weaver should be a great addition to the flailing Thorns offense. Marissa Everett and Angela Salem also saw minutes in the final stretch of the game.
The Red Stars has one more good look at goal in the 85th minute. McCaskill went down on what appeared to be a very soft foul from Rodriguez just outside the box. She struck the ensuing free kick with good pace, but was just wide to the left.
From that point through stoppage time, it was all Thorns, but the Red Stars were able to weather the storm. Rodriguez played a dangerous ball into Boureille, but Ella Stevens defended it well. In the 90th minute, Christen Westphal made a great run down the right side, cut in, and slotted the ball in near the PK spot for Emily Ogle. What looked like a nice placed shot on goal was deflected off a Chicago defender, and Miller was able to grab the Thorns corner that followed. In stoppage time Autumn Smithers rocketed a shot that was also deflected before rattling off the cross bar and fell out of play.
Two yellow cards were handed out in the game. The first came in the 49th minute, as Doniak stopped Horan’s transition with a slide tackle from behind. In the 79th minute, Lussi went in on a hard challenge against McCaskill, earning herself a yellow. Those cards will carry over through the quarterfinal round, and a second yellow will result in a player having to sit the subsequent match.
Given the youth and inexperience of the lineup Dames went with today, Chicago did a surprisingly good job of hanging with a Thorns team that looked to outmatch them throughout the game. “I’m very proud of our younger players,” Dames said. “… for those guys to come out and pick up the group and put in that kind of effort and work and grind through… it’s a great effort. I’m really happy for those kids and I’m happy for the team, and we can definitely build off the effort and performance that was put into the game today.”
McCaskill, who captained the team in place of Ertz, was named the Budweiser Woman of the Match. Dames said of McCaskill, “I thought Sav put in her best shift as a Red Star.” He credited McCaskill and Johnson with being the two most improved players in the offseason. With defender Tierna Davidson slowly coming back from injury, and quite a few rested starters, the Red Stars look to have a strong showing against the North Carolina Courage on Sunday, July 5, at 12:30 pm EST. This will be a rematch of the 2019 NWSL Final that resulted in a resounding 4-0 Red Stars loss.
The Thorns ended the game with 16 shots on goal, but only three were on target. The team maintained a 72.6% passing accuracy and 58.4% of the possession. More importantly, they were able to rest Klingenberg and Horan, and give rookie Weaver and Match 1 goal-scorer Charley solid minutes. Portland will face the up-and-coming Washington Spirit featuring World Cup Star Rose Lavelle on Sunday, July 5th, at 10 pm EST. Both games will be on CBS All Access, and Twitch for international fans.
By Nikki Flores
Photo Credit: Nikki Flores @ Footy Day Photos