Red Stars fall short in franchise’s first NWSL Championship game

Sam Kerr was awarded the 2019 NWSL MVP award during the championship weekend. (Erin Donnery)

By Krystina Iordanou
Medill Reports

Sunday’s Championship match didn’t catalyze the win the Chicago Red Stars had hoped for, as four goals by the dynamic North Carolina Courage offense proved to be too much in the match.

The Chicago Red Stars controlled play for the first few minutes of the game but an early goal from North Carolina’s Debinha in the fourth minute slowly changed the momentum of the match.

“I thought it took us a good 15 to 20 minutes to settle in the game and by that point we were already chasing against a team you don’t want to be chasing against,” said Rory Dames, Chicago Red Stars head coach, “I think when we go back and watch we’ll be pretty disappointed with the first two goals. We had three players around Debinha. She was able to get the first shot off, find the ball and then get the second one. I think when you’re in this setting their players are obviously better in this environment.”

Despite sustaining pockets of possession throughout the match, two late first half goals by forwards Jessica McDonald and Crystal Dunn ultimately sealed the Courage’s second consecutive NWSL Championship. Sam Mewis added the final goal of the match in the 61st minute off an Abby Dahlkemper free kick to complete the scoring.

The experience in these big moments proved to be an advantage for the Courage, who were playing in their third consecutive NWSL Championship, compared to the Red Stars who made their first appearance.

“It’s hard getting into finals, it’s hard to produce in the finals but it’s not hard to motivate the players. It’s hard not keeping them from getting over emotional. This team loves the big games, loves the big moments,” said head coach Paul Riley, of the North Carolina Courage.

Although Chicago players were disappointed with the outcome, they are optimistic about the team’s future and their development as players.

“This team has been extremely special on and off the field which is why it’s pretty disappointing to go out like we did, but I don’t think that’s the end of us. I think we grew a lot; we move forward, we definitely set some records and had some first for the club which is huge but it’s also time to do some reflection and learn from our mistakes as well,” said Chicago Red Star defender Casey Short.

The Red Stars have a lot of lessons they can take from this season. After four seasons of semifinal losses, the team broke through to its first Championship. They also recorded the most wins in their franchise’s history.

Despite rumors of the potential departure of the 2019 NWSL MVP and Chicago Red Star forward Sam Kerr, the team hopes to bring back the core of their many talented players.

Julie Ertz walks across stage to receive her second place medal after loss on Sunday. (Erin Donnery)

The defensive performance of both Julie Ertz and Alyssa Naeher may be overlooked due to the final score, but their resilient performances in the game can provide hope for what fans can expect next season.

“I don’t think this is a finale for the team by any means, if anything I think a ton of players got a ton of experience from going through the process,” said Dames, “We’ll do our best to keep the group together (next season).”

Photo at top: Sam Kerr (center) received the 2019 NWSL MVP award during the championship weekend. (Erin Donnery)