Evanston, Ill. – The Chicago Red Stars returned home after a two-week stretch on the road with a Saturday night match against the visiting Philly Fever. The Red Stars were looking to solidify their first-place standing in WPSL Elite following a painful 0-1 loss to the fellow first-place Boston Breakers a week ago.
Red Stars head coach Rory Dames acknowledged that the team was not happy with the result in Boston and had put effort and focus into their training prior to Saturday’s match up.
“I think we were disappointed with the result against Boston,” Dames said. “But you learn from those things, you correct a few things, and you move forward. We worked pretty hard on Thursday and Friday.”
Philly came out strong in the first half, pressing a Red Stars starting lineup featuring several new faces. Their early fire led to multiple looks forward in the game’s initial minutes, with a 10th minute scramble in front of the Red Stars’ goal first punched away by goalkeeper Jamie Forbes and then snatched out of the air on a rebound.
Not to be outdone, the Red Stars nearly capitalized on several offensive breakthroughs in the opening minutes. Captain Lori Chalupny and defender Michelle Wenino both tallied shots in the 17th minute, the first saved by goalkeeper Michelle Dalton and the second falling wide. Forward Lindsay Schwartz also nearly found the goal in the 18th and 25th minutes, darting around the Fever defense for quick shots to the right of the net.
“We missed two very good chances in the first ten to fifteen minutes,” Dames said. “If we had put one of those away it would have opened up the game a little bit. We didn’t put those chances away, we let the team hang around.”
As the first half continued, the Fever increasingly employed strong defense-minded play. This was clearly frustrating for the Red Stars, as they battled a sizeable group in front of the goal.
“It’s tough when you’re bunkering back,” Red Stars forward Ella Masar said. “At one time, you’ve got 10 people in the box. They’re defensive. They did well, Philly.”
After a scoreless first half, the majority of the final 45 minutes found the Red Stars in possession, trying to break through. A cross from Masar in the 60th minute found midfielder Julianne Sitch, who got off a shot that was saved by Dalton. Sitch would threaten the Fever again two minutes later with a leaping header following a long cross in by Wenino.
The Red Stars punched through in the 66th minute, with a shot from Lauren Fowlkes finding the bottom right corner of the net.
Fowlkes, who started the game at center back, said she looked forward to moving up top as the game progressed.
“It was a really good combination play. There were 5, 6 of us involved. Ella laid off a really nice ball, and I was able to get ahold of it.”
Masar marked her home debut for the Red Stars with an assist after entering the game in the 31st minute. Returing to her former WPS team, Masar pleased to contribute to the win.
“I’m just happy to be back to help the team, and we got a win,” Masar said. “You can’t ever really feel bad about that. I’m just trying to do my team duties, and try to become a part of the family we want to create.”
The best opportunity for Philly to equalize occurred in the 74th minute when a Fever forward volleyed the ball just wide. Philly nearly found the goal again with two minutes left on the clock, when a cross from the right side led to a close-range shot to the right of a leaping Forbes.
The Red Stars will host the Western New York Flash next Saturday at Benedictine University at 8:00 p.m. ET. The Flash, who handed the Red Stars their first loss of the season with a 0-3 routing, are the lone team in WPSL Elite to remain undefeated against the Red Stars.
“Next week is a huge game for us,” Fowlkes said. “We lost to them, and that’s always on our minds. We’ll first take on that game, and then go from there. Hopefully get a good springboard into the playoffs from these last games.”
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