The Chicago Red Stars rode a three goal first-half performance to hand the first-place North Carolina Courage their second loss in a row. The Red Stars put together a season-best first 45 on the road, and although the Courage pulled a goal back in the second half, Chicago’s defense held out for a 3-1 win and vital three points.
Red Stars’ Offensive Explosion
The Red Stars’ lack of offensive fireworks so far in 2017 had left NWSL fans scratching their heads somewhat, as they came into the match with just four goals in four games. Facing a North Carolina three-back without captain Abby Erceg, who was serving a red card suspension, allowed the Red Stars to get all their attacking pieces working together. Chicago came close to an opening goal in the first five minutes when Christen Press played a long ball in to Danielle Colaprico, but the midfielder’s touch did not allow for a shot on goal.
In place of Erceg, the Courage deployed all-time NWSL leading scorer Jessica McDonald on defense, who never looked comfortable in the move to the backline. Chicago were able time and again to exploit her positioning and create opportunities from her side of the field. The breakthrough came in the 29th minute when Colaprico chipped a ball between McDonald and Abby Dahlkemper. Press took a touch into the box and North Carolina goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo came out for the ball, diving and clipping Press’ leg on the way. Press went down under the contact and set up a penalty kick for her team. On the kick, Press sent D’Angelo the wrong way, scoring her first penalty of the year and her second goal in two games to give Chicago the 1-0 lead.
Things just kept getting better for the Red Stars. Sofia Huerta dished up a stunning second goal in the 37th minute, spinning in the box and firing a curler to the top corner for her first of the season. Midfielder Vanessa Dibernardo came close moments later, sending her shot from inside the box off the far post. She made good on her second attempt in the 45th minute however, finishing off a cross from Alyssa Mautz to give the Red Stars a 3-0 lead at the half.
North Carolina’s Response
North Carolina head coach Paul Riley made several changes at halftime, bringing on Taylor Smith and Ashley Hatch, as well as moving McDonald back up top. The moves paid immediate dividends in the Courage’s play when McDonald almost connected on a loose ball in the box in the opening minutes of the second half.
The Courage swarmed Chicago and won back a goal in the 55th minute through 2016 NWSL MVP and birthday-girl Lynn Williams. Williams chested down a bending cross from Jaelene Hinkle, herself making a return to the starting lineup after injury, and poked it past Alyssa Naeher to spoil Chicago’s shutout and give North Carolina a toe-hold on the match.
Despite incessant pressure from North Carolina, Chicago’s defense refused to surrender another goal. Naeher had several fine stops, including a diving save through traffic in the 57th minute, and Julie Ertz had a vital interference in the final moments of regular time, flicking a back-post ball away from the path of a crashing Jess McDonald. The Red Stars were ultimately able to weather the pressure and eat up the four minutes of stoppage time to ensure a 3-1 victory on the road.
Despite the loss, North Carolina (4-2-0) remain at the top of the NWSL table. The victory moves Chicago into third and gives them a winning 3-2-1 record. The Courage will have the opportunity to settle the score next weekend, when they travel to Chicago on Sunday, the 27th for a 4 pm ET rematch.