After an opening night draw against the Houston Dash on April 9th, the Chicago Red Stars (0-1-1) returned home to SeatGeek Stadium to face the Portland Thorns (2-0-0) and suffered their first loss of the tournament by a score of 1-0.
In order for Chicago to be successful on the attack, they had to play wide and stretch the field as they did in their previous match, a tall task against a Portland team notorious for their defensive prowess. With this in mind, Red Stars coach Rory Dames moved his number 10, Vanessa Dibernardo, to left forward.
On defense, the Red Stars knew they had to shut down Portland's midfield, particularly Rocky Rodriguez who posted an impressive 80% passing accuracy and was a perfect 4-4 off the dribble in one-on-one situations last week against Kansas City. Entering tonight, Celeste Boureille was the league leader in intercepted passes with 14. Rounding out the trio is Meghan Klingenberg, who is considered one of the top dual threats in the NWSL.
The Red Stars had some success on the wing tonight, especially from Dibernardo, but never found a way to generate a consistent attack. Besides Kealia Watt, not having enough pace to stretch the opponent's defense seems to be this team's fatal flaw and Chicago fans may have to get used to seeing low offensive production from their club. On the bright side, the Red Stars defense was rock solid, neutralizing a talented Portland midfield for all but one play.
Given the recent events of alleged racial profiling by a Houston Dash security guard, tonight's game was about more than just soccer as both teams took a knee immediately after the opening kickoff in a show of solidarity.
Red Stars Control Play but Can't Break Through
Early in the first half, both teams came out sloppy, turning the ball over far too often to develop an offensive rhythm. At the 16-minute mark, Chicago began to dominate possession, running the offense through Dibernardo and Watt with the latter consistently putting pressure on Portland's backline.
With 20 minutes to go in the first half, it was apparent the Red Stars' game plan was to pin the Thorns deep and advance their defenders up the field. They did so effectively, as Chicago's best opportunity came at the half-hour mark when Right Back Tatumn Milazzo joined the attack, sending a screamer from outside the box just wide of the left post.
But despite having the better of the play, the Red Stars had little to show for it other than a few decent scoring chances. Going into the break, the two clubs found themselves in a scoreless tie.
Portland Finds a Way
It looked as if it was going to be more of the same in the second half until the seven-minute mark when Portland's Tyler Lussi made a dangerous run behind Chicago's backline, beating Red Stars goalie Cassie Miller with a beautiful chip only to see it go off the crossbar. From that point on, you could sense a shift in momentum as Portland's confidence was visibly strengthened.
In the 66th minute, the Thorns broke through and took a 1-0 lead when second-year striker, Morgan Weaver, buried a breakaway off a perfect feed from Boureille. With ten minutes remaining, the Red Stars made three substitutions in hopes of generating more offense but, ultimately, it was to no avail as Portland tightened up on the back end to secure a 1-0 victory.
Woman of the Match
Having been the lone goal scorer, the woman of the match tonight was Weaver. Had Chicago been able to pull out a win or even a draw, Dibernardo would have been the easy choice due to her flair and creativity on the wing.
What's On Tap Next?
The Red Stars square off against Kansas City on April 20th at Toyota Park. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 PM CT and the game can be streamed live on Paramount+.