By Krystina Iordanou
For four consecutive years, the Chicago Red Stars have endured the pain of losing in the National Women’s Soccer League semifinal. But today’s match brought out their best performance, a large home crowd, and the outcome they have been patiently working for.
In front of nearly 10,000 fans, the Chicago Red Stars clinched their spot in the NWSL championship next weekend in Cary, North Carolina, with a 1-0 win over Portland Thorns FC. Sunday afternoon’s win rewrote a story that many have become accustomed to during this NWSL season; that Sam Kerr and Yuki Nagasato are one of the most dynamic offensive pairings in the league.
“Good players like to play with good players. Yuki has made a huge transition from going from an old school nine to wide player. They understand each other’s movements, the way they get in and off each other, the spaces they find,” said Chicago Red Stars head coach Rory Dames. “Hopefully we’ll see it for years to come.”
From the first whistle, the Red Stars were aggressive offensively, breaking the 0-0 scoreline in the eighth minute off a beautifully played ball from Yuki Nagasato over the Portland backline to Sam Kerr. This goal marks Sam Kerr’s 19th goal of the year and Yuki Nagasato’s ninth assist, extending their statistical leads in these respective categories.
Despite Chicago controlling many early opportunities, the Thorns had the Red Stars on their heels for the better part of the second half, out shooting Chicago seven attempts to five. After an early goal, Chicago adjusted to a more defensive strategy and the spirit of the home field crowd proved to be an advantage as the game became more physically taxing.
When asked about the fans’ impact, Dames said. “Huge. [It was the] 75th minute when they started chanting the hype cheers that went out on video Saturday night and we were on the back foot a little bit. You could just see the group get a little bit of life and come back into it.”
This victory is one that Chicago players set their sights on after their semifinal loss last year against the North Carolina Courage, who the Red Stars will face in the final match Sunday, Oct. 27.
Kerr, the lone goal scorer, was excited for the opportunity ahead.
“It feels amazing. Obviously, last year was really disappointing for us and this year we’ve been reformed. We’ve been waiting 13 months for this game. We’ve been working toward this game all year. We deserve to be there,” said Kerr, “We will stick together and do what we do every week. That is believing in each other. Their (North Carolina) is a great team. They’ve been the best team for the last three or four years and they are not a team we take lightly.”
The Red Star’s next game comes against the defending NWSL champions, who ended the regular season atop league standings and will have home-field advantage. The Red Stars have yet to lose to the Courage this season with a 2-0-1 edge.
“There is one more game left. Let’s do it. Let’s bring the trophy back and then close down the city and have a party,” said Kerr.
The NWSL Championship game is scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 27, WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina. Fans can watch the Championship game live on ESPN at 2:30 p.m. CTD.