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Red Stars Lose Challenge Cup Finale to Reign in Five-Goal Thriller

Chicago finishes the 2021 Challenge Cup with just two draws and three goals scored.
Red Stars Reign Recap

Photo: chicagoredstars/Twitter

The Chicago Red Stars lost their Challenge Cup finale 3-2 on Tuesday evening to OL Reign.

Mal Pugh and Morgan Gautrat scored for the Red Stars while Sofia Huerta, Leah Pruitt, and Tziarra King were the goal scorers for the Reign.

The loss was Chicago's second in the Challenge Cup, a tournament that saw the Red Stars accumulate just two points from four matches.

It was an extremely frustrating tournament as Chicago out-possessed and out-shot all of their opponents in the tournament except for the Reign, who only out-possessed them by one percent.

The Red Stars even out-performed their first three opponents in expected goals (the data for this match was not available at the time of writing this post, but I'm assuming the same could be said for this match).

But at the end of the day, the Red Stars once again did not take advantage of their chances and ended up coming away with no points.

Mal Pugh Takes Center Stage

Chicago did come out early and establish their high pressing line, a common theme throughout the first four matches of the season. The Reign were pushed back in their own half so much that they logged over three times the number of clearances as the Red Stars.

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That Chicago high press turned into an offensive advantage as the Red Stars put themselves in prime position to pepper the box with 33 crosses, over double the 14 crosses put in by the Reign.

Mal Pugh was the bright spot for Chicago throughout the first half as the American international looked dangerous, fast, and most importantly, healthy. Pugh was rewarded for her hard work and exceptional play as she took a pass in the box, made an extremely smooth cut-back onto her left foot, and produced a sublime finish past goalkeeper Karen Bardsley and into the side netting for her first goal as a Red Star.

Mistakes Bite Back

The Red Stars could not hold onto their first lead of the season for long as a mistake at the back allowed Sofia Huerta to equalize just three minutes later. Huerta collected the ball at the top of box and produced a fine finish past Naeher that leveled the score line heading into halftime.

The Reign's second goal was a beautiful one as the first goalscorer, Huerta, made a nice through-ball to Tziarra King. King then made a cut-back pass across the six-yard box to a wide-open Leah Pruitt who finished from just six yards out. Alyssa Naeher never had a chance.

The Red Stars certainly did have their own chances. Crosses kept coming into the box and chaos reigned supreme in the box. But a ball just never seemed to find a Chicago body.

Kealia Watt came on as a substitute and was really effective, almost scoring a worldie of a goal that ended up going off the crossbar. That preceded what would have been an excellent goal by Watt, only to have been called off by a questionable offside.

The Tacoma-based Reign would once again go against the run of play and take advantage of another giveaway in the Chicago zone. This time it was Tziarra King who added to the scoresheet herself, expertly placing a shot past Naeher off the far post and into the net.

Morgan Gautrat made it interesting as even more chaos in the box came from a ball finding her foot and going into the back of the net, making it a one-goal game in the final minutes. But it was too little, too late as the Red Stars stumbled out of the Challenge Cup on a low note.