Saturday saw two games play out in the National Women’s Soccer Leaguestarting with an eventful draw between the Kansas City Current and Chicago Red Stars.
Kansas City Current 2, Chicago Red Stars 2
The Skinny: Kansas City dominated the first half and led 1-0, but the Red Stars flipped momentum out of the break and scored twice early, once again on the back of Mal Pugh. Cece Kizer salvaged the point for Kansas City with a great strike from distance against the run of play. With the point, Chicago goes one point clear of the San Diego Wave atop the NWSL (the Wave play Sunday).
One Key Moment: Kansas City’s opening goal was a training-ground success. Hailie Mace plays the corner kick short to Victoria Pickett and then gets the ball back (in part thanks to Lo’eau LaBonta’s decoy run and sends a teasing ball toward the back post which Elizabeth Ball screens and Kristen Hamilton deftly flicks into the side netting. Kizer earned the corner kick with a nice individual effort.
Inside the Game: Kansas City owned the flanks in the first half of this battle of wingbacks, quieting Chicago’s usually successful wide play and cutting off service to Pugh in central areas. Chicago’s best chance of the half – an 18th-minute strike from Ella Stevens which forced a stretching save from Adrianna Franch – was a product of sloppy build-out play from the Current. Otherwise, Kansas City ran the flanks, with Desiree Scott sweeping in front of the back three (one which changed a half-hour in when Ball had to exit with a head injury) and Hamilton and Kizer running into the central channels up top.
The second half was day and night. As Chicago mounted pressure, Kansas City fell into a shell, often dropping into what equated to a flat six on the back line and allowing the Red Stars more space to run at them. That is what led to Chicago’s second goal. The Current dropped off pressure and lost their shape entirely as Rachel Hill dribbled centrally, before she played the ball wide to Bianca St. Georges, who had space in behind because one ball could beat half the Current team. St. Georges’ cross found Pugh, who positioned herself perfectly to draw the penalty on Scott. Pugh finished it for the 2-1 lead before Kizer’s rocket nine minutes later.
Even on set pieces, Kansas City was flat in the second half. Amanda Kowalski scored the equalizer for Chicago in the 53rd minute, heading in Pugh’s corner kick at the back post. Kowalski floated into the area unnoticed in between the Current’s zonal marking for the header.
- Kansas City Current – Kristen Hamilton (Hailie Mace), 8 ‘
- Chicago Red Stars – Amanda Kowalski (Mallory Pugh), 53 ‘
- Chicago Red Stars – Mallory Pugh (PK), 59 ‘
- Kansas City Current – Cece Kizer (Elyse Bennett), 68 ‘
– Jeff Kassouf
The Skinny: In an ugly and physical game, Bethany Balcer’s first-half goal stood as the winner. While Reign earned all three points in front of their home crowd, a potential injury to Balcer may mar the celebration. At the same time, Simone Charley’s early exit is a worrying sign for Angel City who are already thin on attackers.
One Key Moment: Game-winning goal is an easy choice here. The Reign created a ton of chances, particularly in the first half, so the good news for them is that they actually put one away and didn’t have to desperately push in the second half as they have throughout the season. They definitely would have liked to score more goals but putting away an opportunistic chance here and bringing in Tobin Heath, Kim Little, and Jordyn Huietma seems like reason to celebrate for now.
Inside the Game: A good indication of the feel of this game is that this game had a whopping 29 fouls called and tied a league record for 8 yellow cards in the match. Both teams felt that the referees let the game get out of control very quickly. Missed calls abounded on either side, and things continuing to get out of hand resulted in serious injury concerns for both sides with the knocks to Balcer and Charley. It is impossible to leave the reffing out of the reasoning for this result but it cannot be blamed entirely.
OL Reign did earn this win, mostly in the first half. After using the first several minutes to see how Angel City would look without Christen Press, the home team settled into their typical tactics. They allowed Angel City to keep some possession between their centrebacks and goalkeepers but did not let them get comfortable and chose moments to press as a team, not allowing Angel City to play through their midfield or get out of their defensive half. Simone Charley’s removal from the game directly after the opening goal effectively took out the LA team’s main attacking threat. They only had 3 shots in the first half compared to Reign’s 10.
The second half is when the chaos really set in and reckless challenges were flying everywhere. Neither team had much control of the game either way and 74 ‘Megan Rapinoe had had enough, from her spot on the bench she said something to the referee, concerned about Balcer’s safety after the tackle that forced her out of the game, that caused her to earn her second yellow card of the match and an ejection. She will have to serve a suspension for the red card when she returns from international duty. Rapinoe had only come out of the game a few minutes earlier so luckily for the Reign it did not affect their numbers on the field. Prior to her exit, Rapinoe played probably her best game of the year so far, starting for the first time, playing her biggest minutes of the year (a full 70), and showing the impact she can have both on set pieces and switching the field of play.
- OL Reign – Bethany Balcer31 ′
– Bella Munson