CHICAGO – For a number of reasons, this season has been like no other for the Chicago Red Stars and the National Women’s Soccer League.
For one, the season began a little later than usual as all clubs have been dealing with COVID-19 pandemic that drastically cut play in the league in 2020. Then in October came the revelations of The Athletic report on former North Carolina Courage head coach Paul Riley, which caused a reckoning in the league that led to the ouster of the league’s commissioner and legal counsel.
As for the Red Stars, this season included that along with other storylines on the field that started with the opening match at Portland. That 5-0 loss on May 16th included an injury to defender and team leader Julie Ertz which would keep her out for the entire season.
Then came a stretch where the team was aided by an unusual amount of own goals that helped the club rack up points. After that came US National Team duty for a number of Red Stars, which forced others to step in for a few key contributors.
One of those players was Alyssa Naeher, whose knee injury during the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo kept her out of the stretch run of the NWSL season.
Yet a few players stepped up throughout the season to fill the gaps in the lineup, and with many of the regulars back towards the end of the season, the Red Stars hit their stride. In their final nine matches they collected points in eight of them, as the 18 points helped the team claim a third seed in the NWSL playoffs.
It’s a league-record sixth-straight appearance for the club as they get ready to host New Jersey/New York Gotham FC in Sunday’s quarterfinals match at SeatGeek Stadium at 2 PM. They’ll look to win three-straight contests to capture the club’s first-ever NWSL championship.
“That’s ingrained in who we are as an organization, that’s who we are as a club,” said goalkeeper Cassie Miller, who has started 15 matches filling in when Naeher has been out. “Full of toughness, we have so much grit within each person. You see that the next person is always up and ready.
“We’ve had so many players – Olympics, injuries, whatever it is – the next person it up.”
That along with a number of veteran contributors helped the club back to the playoffs again, including forward Kealia Watt and defender Sarah Gorden, who were the only two to play in all 24 matches this season. Gorden, in fact, became the first player in franchise history to play every single minute of every regular season match, earning her the title of “Iron Woman” for the 2021 campaign.
She’s up for NWSL Defender of the Year while forward Mallory Pugh is up for league MVP.
Larry Hawley had more on the Red Stars’ season and upcoming playoffs on WGN News Now this week, and you can watch that in the video above.