CHICAGO – About this time a year ago, the club was getting ready to play for their first NWSL championship in their history.
In 2020, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, there won’t even be a regular season title game to play. The spread of the virus slashed the league’s schedule, reducing it to one tournament in the middle of the summer and a collection of games this fall.
So a year has made quite a difference for the Chicago Red Stars, who saw their 2020 campaign cut down quite a bit after their successful season of a year ago. Just like everyone in the league, it had it’s ups and downs, from the time it started at the NWSL Challenge Cup on June 26th through their fall series finale last Saturday in Harrison, NJ.
Beginning in Utah, where all players were housed in a league bubble, the Red Stars helped the NWSL restart team sports in America for the first time since March.
Emotions ran high as players from all teams issues for racial and social justice were at the forefront, with teams sporting “Black Lives Matter” T-Shirts before every match.
Defender Casey Short was overcome by emotion during the playing of the national anthem while being consoled by teammate Julie Ertz. It was one of the lasting images of a tournament where issues of sports and society were on equal footing.
After going 1-2-1 in the preliminary round, the Red Stars made a charge to reach the tournament’s final. A shootout win over OL Reign and a 3-2 triumph over Sky Blue FC put the club in a title match with the Houston Dash.
They’d fall short of that championship losing 2-0 with a lineup featuring a number of backups due to injury. In what looked like the final game of the year, head coach Rory Dames said a few times that he was pleased with the younger players on the club who got development during the one month in Utah.
For him, that progress meant more than a win in the final, since getting younger players up to speed would help the franchise in the long run.
As it would turn out, the Red Stars got to play a little more soccer a few months later.
The NWSL staged a four-game fall season for clubs, which gave the Red Stars a chance to play a pair of games at home at SeatGeek Stadium.
In this stretch, the team went 1-2-1, with their lone victory coming in Bridgeview on September 20th against Sky Blue FC. Led by Kealia Watt’s first two goals with the Red Stars, the team captured what would end up being their final win of the 2020 season.
Yet again, the ability to get young players some game experience was a critical part of the club’s fall season. Six rookies, including all four 2020 draft picks, saw their first game action during the year while a trio of draft picks from the year before either debuted or saw bigger roles on the field.
While it was much different than the 2019 campaign, the Red Stars were able to get in 11 contests during a pandemic-shortened 2020 season. For this unusual year, that’s an accomplishment.