Chicago’s Best Football Team Isn’t the Bears, or the Fire

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Last Sunday marked an eventful day for professional women’s sports leagues in Chicago.

Both the Chicago Sky of the WNBA and the Chicago Red Stars of the NWSL clinched their playoff spots in their respective leagues. Just last month, the Chicago Bandits won their fourth league championship for National Pro Fast Pitch softball. Each professional woman’s league in Chicago has had their share of successes.  However, the Chicago Red Stars seem to be just hitting their stride.

The National Women’s Soccer League has only one week left in its regular season, but the Red Stars are already playoff bound. Their final game against current league leaders, Washington Spirit, will determine whether Chicago heads to Portland or DC for their semi-final. Last season, in the club’s first ever playoff appearance, they lost to eventual champions FC Kansas City, 0-3. A very young team at its core, Chicago will look to redeem themselves in this year’s playoffs.

That’s right. A winning football team in Chicago will be going to the playoffs.

YOU DON’T KNOW IT YET, BUT THIS IS YOUR FAVORITE TEAM

When the NWSL entered a historic fourth season, it found the Red Stars calling Toyota Park (Bridgeview, IL) their new permanent home.  It was sort of a homecoming for the former WPS club. The organization as a whole set goals for themselves and have exceeded many expectations due to the efforts of front office trinity, owner Arnim Whisler, General Manager Alyse LaHue, and Head Coach Rory Dames. These three helped lay the blue print for the team that continues to grow even before our eyes.

Their successful draft strategy has resulted in picks of players like Jen Hoy, Julie Johnson, Vanessa DiBernardo, Arin Gilliland, Danielle Colaprico, and Sofia Huerta. They haven’t been afraid to make trades in order  to acquire players like Christen Press and Steph McCaffrey. Many of their players are only in their second year in the league. Specifically, players like Gilliland and Colaprico, who have been dominating their positions at outside back and defensive midfielder.

Off season acquisitions, including United States National Team goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, and versatile defender Casey Short, have helped solidify Chicago’s defensive backline, one that has given teams problems all year. Given the recent news of U.S. Soccer terminating Hope Solo’s contract, there has been speculation about Naeher’s rise as the potential starter.

It’s a perfect team to root for considering Chicago has always been a town that rallies behind defensive minded teams.

SO WHY ISN’T CHICAGO SUPPORTING A WINNER?

Last weekend also marked the beginning of a new NFL season. Chicago Bears fans found themselves licking their wounds on Monday morning after an opening game that felt like fans should prepare themselves for another season of mediocrity in 2016.  And the Chicago Fire celebrated their thirteenth loss of the season, leaving them to battle for the second worst team in MLS.

Exciting.

It’s difficult to gauge exactly why a team like the Red Stars are unable to draw a crowd similar to markets like the Orlando Pride, Portland Thorns, or Houston Dash. Chicago is a very sports-saturated city, with its eyes centered in on the big four of NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL. Some might say that soccer isn’t quite as popular as other pro-sports. Some also might argue that an audience for Women’s Pro-leagues are already small and niche to begin with.

Others have mentioned location. At its inception, the NWSL found the Red Stars playing their games at a Benedictine University, a small private college in Lisle, IL. Although it’s hard to debate location anymore since the move to Toyota Park this season, especially considering the Benedictine field is further from Chicago (25.5mi) than Bridgeview (15.8 mi) is. Furthermore, is there really a debate when you’re comparing a college facility to a pro major league facility?

A team that will have back to back playoff appearances in a four-year-old league deserves to play in a facility and pitch designed for professional athletes.

Still others complain about the difficulty had finding the games, considering they’re not aired on television–local or national–regularly. But even that isn’t really an excuse.

You haven’t been able to watch their games? They’re on YouTube. You can go catch up right now.

SEIZING THE MOMENT

Whatever the reason, you probably haven’t made it to a game. Yet. There’s still time. Despite all the above mentioned reasons, that doesn’t mean that the product on the field is less competitive by any means.  

In the NWSL, the top four teams head to the playoffs. Since the start of this season, the Red Stars have found themselves constantly in the playoff mix. They have players who have battled through injuries, week in and week out. A defensive minded, blue collar team, full of grit. They’ve managed to start scoring more than one goal a game. Whatever the scoreline, they don’t quit.

You shouldn’t either.

So while you may enjoy watching wide receivers run incomplete routes that lead to interceptions, or teams that rack up losses like they’re trying to break a world record, you might consider supporting the Chicago Red Stars. It’s not too late. Again, they have a one last home game of the season before they’re off to compete for a championship. That’s right. A real league championship.

You can catch your Chicago Red Stars final home game at Toyota Park. Saturday, September 24th against the Washington Spirit.