If the game were to have stayed on July 28, it would have had a different feel in the locker rooms. At the time, Chicago was standing at 7-4-7 with 28 points and five games left to play in the regular season. However, with the weather picking up in New Jersey, Sky Blue FC couldn’t make it to Chicago and the game was postponed until September 4.
Fast forward to the game on Tuesday night and a new atmosphere is created. For Chicago, a win or a tie secures a fourth-consecutive playoff berth, the first time in NWSL it can be accomplished, while Sky Blue FC is in search of their first win and nothing to lose.
So, you could say this was a big game for the team hailing from Chicago and in big games, big plays arise. You can say that is what happened Tuesday night.
Chicago Red Stars 5 – 0 Sky Blue FC
Here are the takeaways from Chicago’s 5-0 win over Sky Blue FC:
Next Man Up
Without the presence of U.S. Women’s National Team members, Chicago inserted Emily Boyd into the goal, Brooke Elby and Sarah Gorden on the backline and Nikki Stanton into the central midfield.
However, this is nothing new for Chicago. Plagued with injuries in the beginning of season, Chicago has had a next man up mentality all year. Players have earned significant minutes, as Gorden and Stanton have combined for over 2500 minutes, while Elby has appeared in four games for Chicago since being acquired midseason from Utah.
Boyd, starting in her second game as a rookie, would once again earn a shutout.
“Our defense made it really easy for me when the other team only had one shot on goal,” said Boyd. “So, it’s definitely a defensive shutout.”
Meanwhile, veteran midfielder Alyssa Mautz would put her name on the board twice. In the 18thand 46thminute, Mautz would find crosses from Arin Gilliland and bury them past the Sky Blue FC goalkeeper to give the Red Stars the lead and never look back.
Goals, Goals, Goals
In one of the biggest matches of the season, Chicago spread the ball around and earned themselves five goals. The five goals mark the most in a single game this season.
The Mautz and Gilliland connection has been building for four seasons now. Gilliland, drafted in 2015, and Mautz, a fixture since the inaugural NWSL season, have been working together now for four seasons.
“I think me and Mautz have been through this a lot together so we kind of know each other pretty well,” said Gilliland. “When one of us is on the ball we know where the other one needs to be. So, it just kind of worked out.”
Along with Mautz, Sam Kerr, Rosie White and Michele Vasoncelos added to the scoreline for the Red Stars.
The goal for Kerr marks a league leading 15 goals on the season, while White and Vasconcelos earned their first goals for Chicago.
Four Seasons in a Row
The win for the Red Stars allowed for the team to clinch the last playoff spot in the 2018 NWSL Playoffs.
The Red Stars now head to the postseason for the fourth consecutive season, a record for any United States women’s soccer league. Head Coach Rory Dames, who has been with the Red Stars since before the NWSL began in 2013, is the only coach to reach the playoffs at least four seasons with the same team all four times.
“It was one of those goals we had for the year, and with all the stuff we went through this year it’s a credit to the players, to the whole staff and especially the medical staff,” said Dames after clinching the playoff spot. “It’s a hard league to get into the 4 [spot] … we’re happy to be in it, it was one of our goals, but I think we’ve shown over the last four or five years that it’s an expectation for us to get in and anything less than that would’ve been disappointing.”
The playoffs begin on September 14, but the venue and teams are still to be decided. North Carolina Courage have clinched the Supporters Shield and will host the fourth-place team on September 15.