Blythe Hastings ’23
The Chicago Red Stars defeated Angel City FC, 2-0, in the league’s final regular season game. The win puts the Red Stars just above the North Carolina Courage in sixth place to clinch the final playoff spot for their seventh consecutive postseason appearance.
The hosts were on the attack early on and put Angel City net tender Almuth Schult to the test with efforts from Mallory Pugh and Vanessa DiBernardo in the sixth and 12th minutes. First, Pugh stood over a free kick quite some distance from goal but still decided to aim for the upper corner. Striking the ball with her right foot, Pugh sent an effort sailing that did make Schult tip it over the bar for a corner, though Chicago would not capitalize. Then, it was midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo who was unable to get enough power on her shot from close in as an Angel City defender closed the chance after a slipped pass from attacker Yuki Nagasato. However, Angel City began to work its way back into the match as midfielder Savannah McCaskill saw two chances come her way in the 13th and 27th minutes. The former saw McCaskill bundling toward goal after being played in by teammate Jun Endo; however, as she approached goal and fired toward the frame, her shot was blocked out for a corner. The latter chance saw positioned McCaskill a few yards outside the penalty area and driving ahead as her team looked to attack. Choosing to pull up from that distance, the midfielder fired an impressive effort on goal that nearly scraped the outside of the post on its way narrowly wide to the left of goal.
Right at the end of the first half stoppage time, though, Chicago would find their way through as forward Mallory Pugh would score in the fourth minute of added time. Teammate Sarah Luebbert played an incredible give and go with Pugh as Luebbert received a pass on the left flank and danced through multiple defenders on her way toward the center of the field near the edge of the 18-yard box. Dragging opposition players with her, Luebbert then switched and played a slotted pass through the defense to the left where Pugh was waiting to curl home a right-footed effort toward the far post. The goal allowed Chicago to go in to break up a goal and build on momentum, knowing that anything less than a win would see them fail to qualify.
Into the second half, the Red Stars kept up their offensive approach with forward Yuki Nagasato nearly adding the team’s second goal in the 52nd minute. Having missed a headed chance one minute earlier, a deflected ball into the box saw Nagasato end up on the receiving end and in front of Schult in goal. However, Nagasato’s effort, though powerful, was too close to the center of goal and Schult did well to quell the chance. Angel City was still able to work half chances here and there, including a rocket from distance via forward Jun Endo in the 62nd minute, but it was Yuki Nagasato who then converted on her third shot of the night in the 77thminute who all but ended the contest with Chicago’s second goal late on. A headed ball down the line released Nagasato, who cut inside from the right to the left and into the middle of the field where she fired a shot toward goal from just outside the box that nestled into the top left corner and in. From that point, Chicago was able to see the contest out and secure their all-important win that places them in the 2022 NWSL Playoffs.
With the stage now set for the 2022 NWSL Playoffs, the four-seed Houston Dash welcomes the five-seed Kansas City Current to town on Sunday, October 16th before the three-seed San Diego Wave FC hosts the Red Stars later that night. Then, the San Diego/Chicago winner faces Portland Thorns FC on Sunday, October 23rd before the Houston/Kansas City winner travels to the home of one-seed OL Reign on that same night. The postseason then culminates with the Final on Saturday, October 29th.