Chicago Red Stars and Seattle Reign end in a 2-2 draw
Sofia Huerta celebrates her fifth goal of the season | Source: chicagoredstars.com

Toyota Park was the site of some National Women's Soccer League action tonight as the Chicago Red Stars hosted Seattle Reign FC in a match that huge playoff implications.

Looking at the score line, many who may not have watched the game might be forgiven for thinking that the goalkeepers had average games but that was not the case. Both Alyssa Naeher and Hayley Kopmeyer produced some outstanding saves that kept their teams in it and they both did not deserve to have conceded two goals each.

Seattle start strongly

As the team that needed the three points more, Seattle wasted no time in getting on the front foot. In fact. their goals came within in the first ten minutes of the match, that is how quickly they managed to take control of the game. Manon Melis continued her good form in front of goal when Beverly Yanez played a nice slip ball through to Melis who put the ball past Naeher for Seattle's opener in the fifth minute. Four minutes later and Seattle were two-nil up. Lauren Barnes stepped up to take a free-kick just outside the box and she curled it beautifully into the near post, out of the reach of Naeher in Chicago's goal.

Seattle continued to push for goals and Melis' runs were causing Chicago's back line all sorts of problems. In the 15th minute, Jess Fishlock found Melis once again but she was thwarted by Naeher who came out quickly to block the shot. Slip passes through to the forward line would be a feature for Seattle all through the half and it took heroics from Alyssa Naeher to keep the scoreboard from ticking over.

Set pieces prove crucial for Chicago

Last week, the Red Stars scored a good goal from a corner kick and this time around, they did the same thing. Just before their goal, Chicago began to edge back into the game and almost got a goal in 22nd minute. Cara Walls got behind the Reign back line but was stopped by Kopmeyer. The rebound fell to McCaffrey who proceeded to knock her effort wide of the goal.

Chicago's growing influence in the game got the goal it deserved in the 27th minute. Casey Short got forward from left back and won a corner for Chicago. Vanessa DiBernardo then placed her delivery to the far post were Sofia Huerta out jumped her maker and nodded home to bring Chicago back into the game.

The half ended with one more chance for Seattle. Yanez was sent through by her teammates and she directed her shot the opposite direction of where Naeher was headed. The Red Stars goalkeeper quickly readjusted and got a hand to the ball before regaining her balance and clawing the ball away before it crossed over the line for Seattle's third of the night.

Yanez and Gilliland battle for the ball | Source: thebold.net
Yanez and Gilliland battle for the ball | Source: thebold.net

Chicago step up the pressure in the second half

The Red Stars came out as a different side after the half time break and decided to press high up the field to see if they could disrupt Seattle's passing game.

The first chance of teh half fell to Seattle however when in the 55th minute, Rumi Utsugi got forward and found Yanez in the box. the forward made a diving header which was saved from close range by Naeher once again. The Chicago goalkeeper was clearly in fine form tonight and continued her remarkable season.

Substitutions change the game for Chicago

Head coach Rory Dames decided to bring on Amanda Da Costa and move Press away from the Number 10 position and into the Number 9 position. It was a smart substitution and the impact of it was almost immediate. In the 62nd minute, Christen Press, who up until this point had had a quiet game, got free of the Reign's defenders and was left one-on-one with Kopmeyer. The Reign goalkeeper did well to push Press wider than she would have liked and although Press managed to round the goalkeeper, the angle was too narrow and she was only able to send her shot into the side netting. Two minutes later, Press was through on goal again after a quick pass put her into the goal. The US international must have thought she had tied the game but Kopmeyer stretched well to her right and made a great diving save to keep Seattle in the lead.

The tactical switch also allowed Short to get further forward as the half wore on and it was her run forward that gave Chicago the chance to equalize. The left back was tripped up by Merrit Mathias in the 78th minute inside the box and Chicago was awarded a penalty. Press, who's last penalty was the miss against Sweden at the Olympics, stepped up to take the kick and sent Kopmeyer the wrong way to tie the game at two all.

Seattle's push for a winner almost works out

The Reign knew that a draw would nto be good enough for them so they started to push players forward after the Chicago equalizer. Each attack was stopped by a good tackle from a Red Stars defender, in particular Julie Johnston, or Seattle's passes and crosses were just too far away from a teammate who could capitalize on the opportunity. Their constant pressure was almost rewarded in the 86th minute when Mathias got forward to put in a dangerous cross across the goal. Sam Johnson attempted to clear the cross and was relieved to watch her clearance hit the post and bounce away from the goal.

Two minutes later, a corner kick fell to Keelin Winters in the box but Naeher put her body on the line to block the shot and the ball was eventually cleared by the Red Stars. That was the last real opportunity Seattle had to win all three points before the referee blew for the final whistle.

The draw leaves Chicago in third, one point above the Western New York Flash while Seattle stay in fifth, four points off of the final playoff spot. Chicago know that if they continue to pick up points, they will be in the playoffs but Seattle will now have to hope for other teams to do them a favour if they have any hope of making the playoffs this season.

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