CHICAGO — You could pinpoint the exact moment something special occurred at last Sunday’s match between the Chicago Red Stars vs North Carolina Courage, which welcomed a sold-out crowd of 17,388 to SeatGeek Stadium. It started with a quick pass from Arin Wright to Vanessa DiBernardo, who let the ball bounce before she placed her shot between the goalkeeper’s legs for the goal. Before the ball crossed the goalline, her hands rose in jubilation. The crowd followed, jumping out of their seats to make SeatGeek Stadium erupt in celebration.
The hero fit the narrative perfectly. No one deserved to be at the nucleus of the moment more than DiBernardo, a Naperville native who has been with her hometown club since 2014, two World Cup cycles ago. She was part of the vision from the beginning. A vision continuing to be seen after Sunday’s game.
“I think you’re seeing a movement,” Red Stars midfielder Morgan Brian said. “Women’s soccer is here to stay…it’s getting people to see that the Chicago Red Stars are here.”
It was one of the most memorable nights in Chicago Red Stars history, though not because of the scoreline, or because of the implications it had on the team’s season. Head Coach Rory Dames was quick to remind everyone this was, after all, game 13 of a 24 game season. But it was the magnitude of the moment that made Sunday special. 17,388 supporters all using their voices to cheer on Chicago’s women’s soccer team. From the moment the players walked out to the closing ceremony celebrating all 12 World Cup players on the pitch Sunday, the fans voiced their support. They banded together to show everyone how amazing it was to see the Chicago Red Stars in action.
“It was great,” captain Julie Ertz said. “It’s huge, this is what we’re trying to do: it’s to grow women’s sports, especially here in Chicago. It’s been really awesome and the support today definitely helped. It was more motivation to win and that made the win that much better.”
“It was amazing to have all those fans out there,” Tierna Davidson said. “I hope they keep coming back. We were talking before the game how we needed to make sure to defend our home and put on a show if we wanted people to keep coming back. So it was really great to have such a buzzing atmosphere.”
It was another stellar showcase for the NWSL following the league’s reemergence on ESPN last week, though in a different way.
Sunday proved the class the league possesses. SeatGeek Stadium showcased 14 World Cup players, nine World Cup Champions, the league’s most prolific scorer ever and the most dominant side the NWSL has ever produced. This wasn’t a heavyweight fight where knockout punches were thrown with no regard. This was a methodical fight, with both teams waiting for the right moment to strike. The crowd laid in angst anticipating the next move. When Kerr delivered what proved to be the final blow, a double nutmeg beauty that gave Chicago the lead, the sold-out crowd roared in approval, pushing their heroes to the end.
“In the 75th minute when your legs get tired and the crowd gets behind you, it’s huge,” defender and Naperville native Casey Short said. “You want to keep going and play well for the fans.”
“It didn’t get quieter it got louder,” Dames said. “That was a huge lift to the players. To pick that back up and find a way to get the goal back and get in the game, they definitely carried us through the last 15 minutes.”
More important than the final score, the Red Stars gave 17,000 plus Chicagoans a reason to come back to SeatGeek Stadium. It was the people that came to see their heroes — Ertz, Naeher, Brain, Davidson, Kerr of Chicago — proving their greatness once again. They’ll remember the most magical moment soccer can ever produce, not the goal itself, but the sight of 11 players joining the celebration along with the fans that will have the sights and sounds etched in their brain. It wasn’t a moment you could simply watch on a screen, it was a moment people had to be there for and experience the pageantry of Chicago women’s soccer.