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 4 of NWSL action saw the Chicago Red Stars return home to face the Houston Dash. In their opening week matchup back in April, the Red Stars left Houston with a 2-0 loss. Since then Head Coach Rory Dames has shuffled his players in various starting lineups, including rotating forwards and playing Julie Ertz higher in the midfield. With the help of a Houston own goal, Chicago came away with the victory and additional points for the league table. Here are some takeaways from their Week 4 win.
✶ RUNNIN’ THROUGH THE 6 WITH MY WOES
This week saw Julie Ertz in playing the 6 as a defensive mid, and she still scored. This will mark the fourth different position in four weeks that Ertz has played in Chicago’s starting lineup. She has played in four different positions in four weeks and has been able to contribute in each one. She has seen time in the 4, 10, briefly as an 8, and after this week – as a 6.
When asked about her goal, Ertz recognized the demands of a holding mid, displayed her leadership, and credits the goal as a collaborative effort: “It was a lot of hard work from a lot of people kind of keeping the ball alive. A lot of second chances. It kind of popped out from everyone. Really just scrapping to keep the ball in, and it landed right where I was. Being a 6 today, obviously I kind of knew that second ball was going to be more where I would be able to score and help the team, and that’s where I ended up today.”
Despite having played four different positions in four weeks, Ertz is currently the Red Stars leading goal scorer with two goals.
✶ Welcome to Gilliland’s Island: GRITTYLAND
While Casey Short claimed complete ownership of the left flank against Houston, it was Arin Gilliland that was once again given the task of marking Kealia Ohai. In their Week 4 rematch, it was the right back who forced Ohai to switch sides during the second half in order to try and create opportunities for the Dash on the left flank against Short. Ohai would go goalless on the day after facing both outside backs. Gilliland was looking forward to the matchup going against Ohai, stating that, “It’s always great to go up against Kealia, she’s super athletic. Super-fast. Quick with the ball, and it really challenges me. I love going against the top forwards out there. It’s a great challenge. I think I definitely made leaps and bounds from the first time we played each other, but that’s part of the league, you get used to the people in the league and you learn and you get better and better each time. So, I look forward to the next time we’re going to play her too.”
In the 61st minute of the match, there was a collision between Ohai and Gilliland that lead to Chicago’s second goal. Both players were slow to get up, and part of Chicago’s goal celebration included checking on their teammate. After the game during the mixed zone session, Gilliland expressed her grit about the collision and was already looking ahead, stating: “We’re good to go. It’ll [knee] be a little swollen. Little ice, little compression, little Advil, good to go, part of the game.”
Gilliland is also Backline Soccer’s “Unsung Hero” this week, you can check out the article here.
✶ GOAL SHAWTY, IT’S YOUR BIRTHDAY
The weekend full of own goals was kicked off at Toyota Park by birthday girl Danielle Colaprico. A free kick taken by Colapirco was the first of three own goals we would see throughout NWSL in Week 4. A foul from Denise O’Sullivan on Colaprico set up the free kick just before halftime in the 43rd minute. Colaprico played the set piece over Houston, which was deflected into goal off Sarah Hagen.
Colaprico admits there was birthday luck in getting her free kick into a good spot saying: “Our coach [Dames] always says just get it in the right spots and good things will happen, and I think that’s what I tried to do. Got to break that first line of defense and get it up and over the defenders and just got lucky.”
That’s not to say the Red Stars aren’t aware of their lack of finishing in front of the net. Colaprico elaborated as such, but is happy to get the points, stating: “We’ve had a lot of chances in past games, and when teams can’t find the back of the net, they sometimes come from the other team. It was a lucky one, but a win is win. And that’s what matters”
Head coach Rory Dames knows the forward core has another level they have to reach as collective and has stated recently that his team needs to be more ruthless in front of goal. After playing as a forward against Houston, Sofia Huerta echoed a similar statement on whether the string of strikers has hit the gear they are capable of, saying: “I would say, no. Not yet. I think we have such good attacking players, and we all are capable of scoring at least a goal a game, or even a couple goals a game. So, I wouldn’t say we have completely gotten there… I still think that Press, Myself, Jen [Hoy], Steph [McCaffrey], Vanessa [DiBernardo] we still some more goals in us.”
✶ We Don’t Always Win, But When We Do, It’s a Shutout
The first quarter of the season still has two games left in it. Four weeks in, the Red Stars now sit in 3rd place with two wins and two losses. Both wins against Houston and Kansas City came with shutouts for the backline and goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher. The starting goalkeeper is happy to get the results, points, and shutouts, stating: “Always happy to get a shutout. I think when you come into any game as a defense and as a team our goal is to get a shutout every time. So, to be 2 for 2 at home with wins and shutouts is a good feeling”
With Julie Ertz being played more in the midfield, the backline has seen strong performances from center back duo Katie Naughton and Samantha Johnson. As a veteran in the backline, Johnson’s role has become more vocal, and her goalkeeper acknowledges and appreciates her growth as a center back. Naeher elaborated saying: “Julie [Ertz], she definitely ran, vocally, the backline. But I think as a backline everyone is responsible for different pieces of communication, otherwise it’s not going to work. So, I think Sam has stepped up, she’s doing what she’s always been good at. Which is getting in hard for tackles. Playing and being smart. And I think the vocalization piece of it is coming as well. She’s [Johnson] controlling the line, Katie’s controlling the line, and it’s been working.”
Ahead in Week 5
Chicago will face Boston, as the Breakers visit the Red Stars at Toyota Park. It will be the second match in two weeks that Chicago plays host. The Red Stars have a strong home record, and while there are fan concerns over dwindling attendance league wide, Head Coach Rory Dames recognizes that the team can only control how they approach game days at home. “It’s an unbelievable atmosphere to play in. Especially for the players that were here when we were in Benedictine. I mean we’ve worked hard as a collective group from the players, to the staff, to the front office, to the owner to be able to transition here. We really understand that it’s a privilege to play here. And every time we step on the field we try to continue to earn the right to keep playing here.”
You can watch the match on the Go90 app, this Saturday May 13th at 3 pm C.T. For tickets visit the Chicago Red Stars website.