The NWSL regular season finale came to an exciting conclusion in blistering conditions at Toyota Park Sunday afternoon. Chicago’s biggest stars linked up in the 90th minute to earn a 1-1 draw against the Houston Dash. The Red Stars showed true team passion and determination to scrap out a point on the last day of the 2015 regular season. Results elsewhere in the league Saturday had rendered Sunday’s match result against Houston inconsequential. Home field advantage for the Red Stars debut appearance in the NWSL postseason had been sealed with the Seattle Reign defeating the Washington Spirit Saturday.
The Red Stars trailed Houston for the final half hour of a match played in temperatures peaking over 90 degrees. Illinois native Ella Masar had put Houston ahead on a fine effort in the 62nd minute. The Labor Day weekend sun had been beating down on the players and the spectators numbering over 4,100 (including the Women’s World Cup Trophy) all afternoon but late afternoon shadows provided some needed relief for the final 15 minutes. In these late moments Chicago’s women displayed their teams trademark hard nosed character. The Chicago equalizer came at the beginning of second half added time when rookie left back Arin Gilliland chased down a loose ball in midfield, then avoided multiple Dash defenders and sent a hopeful lofted ball into the Houston penalty area.
Red Stars goal scorer Christen Press described the moment saying,
“at that point we were all just high press just trying to get a goal back. I think that [the goal] was important for our identity. We are a team that has won a lot of games, taken a lot of points and the core players in the team know that. When everyone starts to push we all get that feeling. The ball flew way over my head to [Julie Johnston] who plays in the back for the most part but she was way up high because she has the mentality that we are going to come back and win. There is nothing else to it, no tactics, no technique, she was way up high, sees me, trusts me, [heads] the ball back to me…it was all adrenaline and just I ran right through the ball and [put it in]”.
As he has all season long Red Stars Head Coach Rory Dames had a far more measured review of his teams performance. “I think we will be much better next week [in the playoff match], we will play with a much better purpose next week. I don’t think we really played until we were down to be quite honest. The only thing I’m disappointed in today is that we didn’t get a win for [retiring goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc]. Karina deserved to win her last regular season game. She did everything in her power to win it today making two or three really great saves”.
In additional notes, coach Dames stated ‘his three rookies [Colaprico, Gilliland, Huerta] were the best rookies in the league this season but they will likely end up finishing two, three, and four in the leagues Rookie of the Year voting’. Dames also stated backup goalkeeper Michelle Dalton competing for the starting keeper spot was the biggest surprise of the season for him. The Chicago Red Stars will battle FC Kansas City Sunday September 13th at 12:30 CT in the NWSL semifinal at Toyota Park, a match that will feature seven Women’s World Cup Champions.