First-year forward bags second consecutive brace
By Gunnar Berndt
Chicago, Illinois – The Chicago Red Stars remained unbeaten through five NWSL matches in their away meeting with Houston Dash on Friday night, clawing back from two goals down, courtesy of reigning NWSL Player of the Week Sofia Huerta’s second consecutive brace. Both of the rookie’s goals came after the break, the first immediately following a Kealia Ohai tally that had temporarily doubled the Houston lead. The Dash’s Rachel Axon had opened the scoring via penalty kick just before the half-hour mark.
In a relatively uneventful opening stretch, the home side had the first close look, as amateur call-up Jen LaPonte sent a dangerous long ball into the Red Stars box in the 10th minute and Brittany Bock beat goalkeeper Michele Dalton to the ball for a glancing header that sailed just over the crossbar. Houston had another chance in the 24th minute of play, Chicago defender Abby Erceg heading out to Tiffany McCarty, whose attempt through traffic was well stopped by Dalton.
Four minutes later, the Dash opened the scoring. After the Red Stars’ Arin Gilliland brought down Ohai, Axon stepped up to the penalty spot and converted on a perfectly-placed effort inside the right post that left Dalton without a chance.
First-year striker Huerta sent her first warning shot toward the Houston goal four minutes from halftime, faking out a defender at the top of the box and releasing a wicked left-footed rocket that was tipped around the near post by diving netminder Bianca Henninger.
After the break, the Red Stars increased the pressure and created back-to-back chances in the 56th and 57th minutes, each as a result of excellent crossing by Alyssa Mautz from the right. On the first occasion, Mautz’s service found a wide-open Rachel Quon at the far post, only for the 23-year-old to push the ball wide from the doorstep for an agonizing miss. Then, Hoy’s poke from close range sailed over the bar, following a clever redirect of Mautz’s service by Vanessa DiBernardo in the center of the area.
Instead of lamenting an equalizer, the fans at BBVA Compass Stadium were able to celebrate their team’s second tally on a textbook counter-attacked less than two minutes later. As the Dash won the ball deep inside their own half, Melissa Henderson picked it up near the center circle and sprinted several yards before releasing a streaking Ohai, who calmly slotted underneath the onrushing Dalton to make it 2-0.
The Red Stars’ response to the additional setback was prompt, as a clever 60th-minute touch by Hoy put strike partner Huerta through on the right side of the penalty area and the former Santa Clara star fired a shot inside the far post to cut the deficit in half.
The goal visibly served to reassure Head Coach Rory Dames’ side, which appeared determined to earn at least a point against second-year Houston. Mautz nearly topped off her strong performance with a 68th-minute equalizer, as her redirect of a Danielle Colaprico corner from the left was cleared off the goal-line by a Dash defender.
The Red Stars’ relentless pressure finally paid off nine minutes from full time. Gilliland sent a waist-high ball into the box and substitute Cara Walls managed to touch it to Huerta, who cut to her left by way of some outstanding footwork and released a low, driven attempt that just made it past the hand of outstretched goalkeeper Henninger to level the score.
Despite continued attacking efforts by Chicago, it would be the day’s final noteworthy moment, as the visitors opened their four-game road swing with an encouraging comeback.
The Chicago Red Stars look to remain unbeaten when they travel to take on defending champions FC Kansas City on Saturday, May 23. The club’s next home match is on June 20 against Washington Spirit. Single-game and season tickets for the 2015 Red Stars campaign may be purchased by visiting www.chicagoredstars.com or by calling 773-698-6001.
Chicago Red Stars at Houston Dash 2-2
Venue: BBVA Compass Stadium, Houston, TX
Kickoff Time: 7:30 p.m. CT
Red Stars starting lineup:
Dalton, Gilliland, Johnson, Erceg, Hemmings, Mautz, Quon, DiBernardo, Colaprico, Hoy, Huerta
Houston starting lineup:
Henninger, Cross, LaPonte, Pressley, Masar, Henderson, Bock, Axon, McCarty, Ohai, McDonald
Goals: Axon 28’ HOU – Ohai HOU 59’ (Henderson) – Huerta (Hoy) 60’ – Huerta (Walls) 81’
Colaprico CRS 43’ (caution – reckless foul)
Masar HOU 62’ (caution – reckless foul)
Red Stars substitutions:
Walls for Hoy 69’
Lomnicki for Mautz 80’
Tejada for Quon 85’
Jackson for Bock 46’
Privett for McCarty 66’
Bailey for Henderson 71’