It’s a new season, folks, and one ripe for some hot new takes. And that’s why this year I’ll be writing a new column for Backline Soccer, and providing our readers with Four Star Takeaways from Chicago Red Stars every week. Be sure to follow along for some post-game takes and match-day quotes!
Week 2: Chicago vs. Kansas City: Red Stars Take the W in 1-0 Victory over FCKC
After a disappointing debut in Houston against the Dash, the Chicago Red Stars were eager to return to Toyota Park and get a result against FC Kansas City. The Midwestern rivalry would be the home opener for Chicago. Kansas City, led by Becky Sauerbrunn, were coming off an impressive week 1 win of their own against Boston. However, dropping three points in week 1 is not how any team wants to start their season. Especially one with excessive chatter about playoff expectations. Kansas City would face challenges of their own as they lost forward Amy Rodriguez to an ACL tear.
It was a game with many offensive opportunities for Chicago and some moments for Kansas City to find a late equalizer. But the Red Stars prevailed, and here my first four star takeaways of the season.
* Shake ‘em up and Start ‘em Up
Last week against Houston Head coach Rory Dames put together a starting lineup that looked strong in the first half, but started to fall short as the game progressed. The Chicago lineup included the usual suspects of Alyssa Naeher, Julie Ertz (Johnston), and Christen Press. The offensive side of the ball was accompanied by McCaffrey, Hoy and Mautz. In adjusting for the home opener against Kansas City, Dames gave us a lineup that saw Sofia Huerta get the start, and Ertz get moved up into the midfield.
When asked about mixing up the starting eleven during the post game interview with the media, Dames mentioned the need to maximize the talent of his squad, saying that, “We have to figure out how to get all of our best players out onto the field.” He also elaborated on how the team needed to be less predictable this season. “She [Ertz] could end up in the backline tomorrow, she could end up as a 6, she could end up as a 10. We’ve been very predictable over the last 2 years and very stagnant with who our players are. It’s just very competitive to get on the field right now.”
* Creating and Disrupting Offense
While much is broken down into offense and defense, it is often the role of the midfield to produce on both sides of the ball. Having players in multiple roles this match, Rory Dames praised his players during the post game for being able to play successfully in multiple roles and positions. “I think between Dani [Colaprico], Vanessa [Dibernardo] and Julie [Ertz] you can line them up. Julie can drop to the 6, Dani can bump to the 8, Vanessa can go to the 10. You can put them in a block side by side with Julie and Dani, and bump Vanessa higher and shift out, which we did for a little bit. It just gives us a lot of [different] things.”
Rotating players isn’t a new venture for Chicago. Christen Press has often played lower in an attacking role for the team. Sofia Huerta, who in the past was listed on the roster as a forward, is listed as midfielder/forward this year. The duality of play has paid off for Huerta, who is no stranger to either scoring or assisting on goals.
After the match, Huerta spoke with the press and confirmed the team’s goal was to come in to the home opener for a win. “You never want to start off the season with a loss. But we knew being home that we needed to get the win.”
* A Post Love Affair
Sometimes there is no better momentum killer than a clean shot hitting the post. Often this early in the season many teams are still trying to establishing their game. The ability to finish in the final third has been on full display the last two weeks with multiple teams like NC Courage, Portland Thorns, Orlando Pride, and Chicago hitting the post more often than the net. It can be debated that a short and under developed preseason could be cause for this, but eventually with time, teams will start to gel both offensively and defensively.
A great reactive shot from Stephanie McCaffrey last week against Houston, to a juke and shoot move around Nicole Barnhart by Christen Press, each of these great offensive moments fell victim to the goal post. Despite these moments, including a missed penalty shot by Press, Chicago has shown a commitment to continue their attack when it comes to getting the goal.
However, Coach Dames isn’t worried about it, and still feels he has the best forward in the league.“We probably didn’t try to play her [Press] enough today. But I’m sure she’ll be kicking herself for the chances that she missed. And I’m sure the social media universe will have at her, but I’ll still take her over any other forward in the league any day of the week.”
* Julie the Attacker, nee the Defender
For those who only know Julie Johnston Ertz as a center back defender, she played as a midfielder and forward in college at Santa Clara. She also saw time as a center-mid while in the U20’s. So, keep that stored in your memory bank when you feel like freaking out. When she was given the start against FCKC as an attacking mid, while sometimes in a pivot with DiBernardo, it quickly became apparent that Ertz playing higher was a bit of a game changer this match.
Coach Dames emphasized that she adds something different in the midfield. “She gives us a little toughness in the midfield”
Naturally, Ertz credited the quality of her play to the team, saying in the post game press conference that:“I felt really comfortable. The easiest thing is that my teammates were all for it [changing position] and behind me and cheering me on. To do it at this level, obviously, is a little bit different from college, so I’m still learning as well. But it was really fun.”
Having playing history and chemistry with Sofia Huerta back to Santa Clara helps as well. Ertz agrees about the strong soccer connection between them. “It’s really special.” And Huerta echoes the same sentiment about past chemistry as well,“I think it was kind cool that I assisted on her goal. Just because we’ve been playing together for so long. We do have that connection. I don’t really know how to explain it. So, I’m really happy that she finished that goal.”
Coming Next Week: Portland Thorns vs. Chicago Red Stars (4pm ET), Lifetime Game of the Week