Brave Battle Not Enough for Chicago against Ruthless Champs

Eliminated from NWSL playoffs as Rodriguez bags brace in FCKC’s 3-0 win

By Gunnar Berndt

Bridgeview, Ill. – The Chicago Red Stars’ historic first ever participation in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) playoffs came to a bit of a bizarre end on Sunday afternoon. Despite putting up a strong performance and outshooting visiting FC Kansas City 18-11 over the course of 90 minutes, Head Coach Rory Dames’ squad came up short against the defending champs, who earned a 3-0 victory courtesy of ruthless finishing and well-organized team defending.

Striker Amy Rodriguez bagged a brace for the visitors, and fellow U.S. Women’s National Team ace Nicole Barnhart made nine saves in net to preserve the shutout against furiously attacking Red Stars.

Early on, Chicago looked to have chosen the right game plan, and another pair of FIFA Women’s World Cup winners nearly combined for the opening goal in the eighth minute, Lori Chalupny putting Christen Press in on goal and the red-hot forward releasing a powerful shot that skimmed of the top of the bar. Instead of a Red Stars lead, the fans at Toyota Park saw a freak goal at the other end that came completely against the run of play.

Goalkeeper Michele Dalton found herself with the ball at her feet three minutes from the quarter-hour mark and was dispossessed by determined U.S. superstar Lauren Holiday, as the ball fell straight to Rodriguez for a simple tap into the open net. Kansas City would maintain a perfect conversion rate on its opportunities when American legend Heather O’Reilly slotted the ball to an open Erika Tymrak in the 21st minute and the attacker roofed her close-range shot from the left side of the box to leave Dalton without a chance.

Things would get even worse for the stunned home side just four minutes later, as Rodriguez completed her brace by dribbling past a couple of Chicago defenders as well as netminder Dalton for a confident finish. Moments after the tally, Press could have cut the deficit to two, but the Red Stars striker’s delicate chip from the edge of the area became indicative of her team’s luck on the day, as she sent the ball bouncing off the top of the crossbar for the second time.

Chicago Head Coach Dames did whatever he could to give his side a fighting chance, making two substitutions during the break and another one early in the second half, and the efforts resulted in near-total dominance over the course of the second 45 minutes. However, FCKC made impressive use of its experience as all eleven players worked hard defensively to close down space and make clear-cut chances very difficult to come by.

The Red Stars did have a very close look in the 56th minute of play, Press releasing substitute Sofia Huerta on the right side of the box and the NWSL Rookie of the Year candidate putting a shot on frame that was scraped out of the upper ninety and tipped against the woodwork by Barnhart. The U.S. international was once again forced to spring into action a mere two minutes later, as Huerta cut to her left outside the box and sent a skillful curler on target that took a bounce and was deflected around the far post by the outstretched Barnhart.

The hosts created yet another excellent chance just after the hour mark. Veteran outside back Taryn Hemmings wowed the crowd by dribbling past a defender on the right and squaring to a wide open Press in the center, only for the low drive to be blocked by the leg of an FCKC player. The ball subsequently seemed to bounce off a hand inside the penalty area, triggering protest from several Chicago attackers. However, the whistle stayed silent and subsequent replays did not provide conclusive evidence that a penalty kick would have been warranted.

Kansas City’s O’Reilly was able to provide some relief for her side in the 68th minute, as her rocket from just outside the box whistled narrowly wide of the left upright. The Red Stars would be back on the offensive just two minutes later, Press’ curling free kick finding its way around the wall, but only to fly past the wrong side of the right post.

As Chicago was now launching wave after wave of desperate attacks, space opened up for the visitors on the counter, and one of them very nearly resulted in a fourth goal 14 minutes from full time. O’Reilly found Rodriguez with a well-timed through ball and the day’s hero was denied a hat trick courtesy of a point-blank block by the onrushing Dalton. In the 81st minute, those watching at the stadium and at home saw a near-identical chance, and once again Dalton was able to throw her body in the way of the U.S. forward’s attempted finish from close range.

Red Stars captain Chalupny had one last dangerous look for the home side when she tried to catch Barnhart off guard with a wicked effort from the left flank that was goal-bound and had to be tipped over the bar by the opposition shot-stopper. The final opportunity of the match went to FCKC, which enabled Dalton to provide even more evidence of her quality, Becky Sauerbrunn this time releasing O’Reilly on the right side of the penalty area and the 30-year-old forcing yet another spectacular block.

Coming off their most successful campaign in NWSL history, the Chicago Red Stars aim to bring home the trophy in 2016. Season ticket packages are available here.

Chicago Red Stars vs. FC Kansas City 0-3
Venue: Toyota Park, Bridgeview, IL
Scheduled kickoff time: 12:30 p.m. CT

Red Stars starting lineup:
Dalton, Gilliland, Johnston, Erceg, Hemmings, Colaprico, Chalupny, Mautz, DiBernardo, Hoy, Press

FCKC starting lineup:
Barnhart, Moros, Sauerbrunn, Robinson, LePeilbet, Buszkowski, O’Reilly, Tymrak, Laddish, Rodriguez, Holiday

Rodriguez 12’ FCKC (Holiday)
Tymrak 21’ FCKC (O’Reilly)
Rodriguez 25’ FCKC

Johnson 66’ CRS (defensive handling)

Red Stars substitutions:
Johnson in for Erceg 46’
Huerta in for Mautz 46’
Tancredi in for Hoy 58’

FCKC substitutions:
Averbuch in for Laddish 62’
Silva in for Tymrak 71’
Groom in for Rodriguez 88’

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