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 3: A Thorn of a Time in Rose City [Portland Thorns 1 – Chicago Red Stars 0]
Chicago Red Stars collected three points against FC Kansas City in their home opener back in Week 2, and looked to build upon that success in Portland during Saturday’s Game of the Week on Lifetime. Coming into Week 3, both teams were tied with with one win and one loss. And with Portland once again without team MVP Tobin Heath, Chicago was looking for their first win against the Thorns since 2013.
It was another game with strong possession and moments of opportunities for Chicago’s offense, which was able to break through gaps in the home team’s backline early on. However, some interesting officiating in the game took center stage instead of Chicago’s tactical game plan to press high on Portland’s center backs. Chicago lost the game 1-0 on an unfortunate hand ball penalty that Portland’s Nadia Nadim converted in the 27th minute.
✶ Battle of the Mids
Last week against FC Kansas City we saw Julie Ertz in midfield as an attacking mid. And her performance last week earned her the start in position again this week against Portland. And Ertz did well in just her second appearance in the Chicago midfield, providing some dominance against a Thorns midfield that featured fellow NT player Allie Long. Head Coach Rory Dames spoke about Ertz and helping his player adjust in the early weeks:
“One of the bigger things that happened in our preseason was Julie not being in it for the most part, which was a choice we made. I’ve felt all along that the first three of four games would kind of be similar to preseason to working her in and figuring out how we were going to be and how we were going to do things.”
✶ Samantha Johnson, Weekend Warrior
With Ertz playing higher up as an attacking mid, her absence in the backline has given players like Katie Naughton time in the center back role, where she’s been partnered with Samantha Johnson. Both defenders worked on their game this offseason, traveling together to play in Australia’s winter W-league. “Sam and Katie have both been excellent. They both worked on their game in the offseason overseas and both look really good, even better than they did last year,” Dames said, acknowledging the benefit that their offseason play has brought to Chicago this year.
However, it’s veteran Samantha Johnson who has been having an impressive first three weeks. From an open tryout invitee in 2014 to an anchor in Chicago’s backline for 2017, Johnson has worked hard to get where she is, and made several strong impressive challenges this season against the offenses of Houston, Kansas City, and now Portland. Johnson had to be subbed off at the half due to an injury, and when Coach Dames was asked about her condition after the game, he explained that:
“Sam wasn’t a substitution by choice. She took a knock to the quad and had to come off because she felt her knee locking up on her.” He elaborated more on her contributions to the team this season, remarking that, “[Johnson] is part of the reason we are able to move Julie [Ertz] higher.”
Hopefully Johnson can make a return to the pitch in Week 4.
✶ Shine Bright like a Diamond
The last three weeks have seen the Red Stars play in a traditional 4-4-2 diamond formation but during the second half against Portland, we saw Chicago push for the equalizer in a 3-back form to free up their attacking players. Moving ahead to next week, Coach Dames will continue to work with his team but doesn’t put blame on formation for lack of finishing, saying that:
I think it depends on who we’re playing against and what their shape is. I think we we’ve been pretty good in the 4-4-2 all three weeks, and I feel like we’ve been the better team in all three games. Unfortunately, credit to Houston and Portland, because they won games and are both very good teams. So, I don’t know that we would change our shape, just to change our shape. And I don’t think our shape is the issue that we’re having. I think our quality in certain areas has to get better. Our decision making in certain areas has to get better. And we’re not ruthless enough in front of goal.”
✶ A Coach that Loves His F-ing Team
If you couldn’t watch Lifetime’s game of the week last Saturday, you probably heard about it. During the game, Christen Press had a big collision with Thorns goal keeper Adrianna Franch in the 26th minute. The hard challenge could have been called as a penalty in the box, but was not. The no call was further heightened when four minutes later a hand ball was called against Chicago in Portland’s box. A call that some have said is controversial, as Press’s contact with the ball appeared to be unintentional, and the USSF advises referees to use the rule of thumb that “it is handling if the player plays the ball, but not handling if the ball plays the player.” As far as we could tell, Christen Press was clearly played by the ball, and not other way around.
Deserved better from the game, everyone deserved better from the referees…visiting team coach does not get interviewed here…enjoy!! pic.twitter.com/3PtoyZPDpS
— Rory Dames (@dames_rory) April 29, 2017
Head Coach Rory Dames took to Twitter after the game when the visiting coach was not interviewed for comment, and he was obviously upset with the quality of the refereeing. Later, Backline Soccer was able to speak with Coach Dames about the match, where he continued to express his frustration on the no call.
“It’s a stone-cold penalty kick, and arguably, a Red Card. Casey plays the ball in, Christen takes the ball high, the goalie goes low, takes her feet and wraps her up. She’s [Franch] the last defender who prevents her from scoring. So, no question, it’s a penalty kick and arguably a red card.”
We feel you, Coach Dames, we feel you.
Ahead in Week 4
The Red Stars will face the Houston Dash at home in Toyota Park on Saturday at 3pm CT. The match will be featured as Lifetime’s Game of the Week.