Resilient Red Stars continue their incredible run to the NWSL title game

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PORTLAND, OREGON – NOVEMBER 14: Tatumn Milazzo #23 and Tierna Davidson #26 celebrate a goal by Sarah Woldmoe #16 of Chicago Red Stars during the second half of the match at Providence Park on November 14, 2021 in Portland, Oregon. Chicago won 2-0. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

PORTLAND – Silence was deafening at one of the most difficult places to play in all of American soccer, including the times when Portland’s National Women Soccer League club takes the pitch.

But Providence Park was something else at times on Sunday in the Thorns’ NWSL semifinals match against the Red Stars on Sunday. The effort by the shorthanded visitors quieted a devoted supporter group over the course of 90 minutes in pulling one of the bigger playoff upsets in recent memory in the league.

“You never hear that stadium that quiet,” said forward Katie Johnson during the Red Stars’ 2-0 victory. “It was a pretty cool feeling, and one I’ll always remember for sure.

While hearing the venue quieted is something different, a narrative with this season’s visitors only got louder as the Red Stars advance to their second NWSL Championship Game in team history. Despite losing MVP candidate Mallory Pugh and Kayla Sharples before the game due to COVID protocols along with Olympic defender Casey Krueger due to illness, then Kealia Watt due to a injury in the first half, the club once again found a way to advance against the league’s top team in 2021.

They never trailed, resisted every push by the Thorns at their goal, and in the process won their fifth-straight match to go for their first title on Saturday against Washington in Louisville at 11 AM.

“Resiliency is actually one of our words for the year. One of the main words we built the culture here off of, if you go back to the early years, the teams we had,” said manager Rory Dames. “The group bends, but we don’t break. When they’re on the field and they cross the line, there’s a high level of believe in one another. They know their roles, they play within themselves, and this isn’t an easy place to play.”

The Red Stars found that out when their adversity began on May 16th, when defender Julie Ertz suffered a knee injury in a 5-0 loss to the Thorns and wouldn’t play for the team again the rest of the year. Other members of the USWNT would end up leaving the club for periods of time during the summer, leaving holes to be filled in the club’s lineup.

Starting goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher was injured during the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo and wouldn’t return this season. On top of that, the Red Stars, like everyone in the league, dealt with the reckoning in the wake of a report from The Athletic on sexual coersion accusations against former North Carolina Courage head coach Paul Riley.

All of these elements were prat of their season, but the Red Stars improved down the stretch, and now have delievered two playoff victories to face the Washington Spirit for the title. From opening week to the semifinal, oddly enough in the same place, a resilient formula continues to work for the club.

“I feel like it goes back to what we’ve been saying all year. I feel like the depth of our team goes so far. I feel that anyone whose asked to step on the field and do a certain role has stepped up and has been huge for us,” said midfielder Danielle Colaprico. “It’s not easy sometimes being a role player and asked to do specific things and it might not be something that your used to but it’s what the team needs.

“I feel like all year every player on this team has stepped in and done exactly what they’re asked of, and that’s been huge of us. We’ve had a lot of injuries, COVID got a little bit of us and illnesses, whatever. We’ve faced so much this year and I’m so proud of this group and everyone deserves to go to the final and we’re just so excited to get there.”

Where they’ll hope to be resilient one more time for title No. 1.

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