The Chicago Red Stars rolled into the WPSL Elite final with a resounding, 3-1 victory over the Boston Breakers at Sahlen’s Stadium. Lori Chalupny set up Lauren Fowlkes early in the first half and scored early in the second on a night the Red Stars were much the best from whistle to whistle. Ella Masar added the back-breaker and Amanda DaCosta pulled one back late for the regular season champions.
The trouble for the Breakers began well before the opening whistle. Central defender Cat Whitehill was in New York City where she was doing Olympic commentary for NBC. The Breakers had intended to put her on a flight to Rochester to play the match, but it never materialized.
“We thought we would be okay because we could put in Courtney Jones,” head coach Lisa Cole said.
Jones’s night was short lived. A dozen minutes in she rushed off the field for medical attention, appearing to be having trouble breathing. By the 14th minute her night was officially over. Cole referred official answers on Jones’s condition to doctors but indicated it was a breathing problem that can be brought on by anxiety.
The replacement, Katherine Donnelly, went in on barely two hours of Elite experience.
Backline issues aside, the Red Stars dominated the midfield. Michele Wiessenhofer put on a stellar performance and Chalupny played her withdrawn forward role to a tee.
“I thought Ella and Michele caused some problems up front and created a lot of chances for Lori to come in underneath them,” Red Stars coach Rory Dames said. “And I though Lori and Jen Buczkowski had a good run up the middle.”
“Our midfield was bad,” Cole admitted.
Leslie Osborne, the captain and defensive midfielder, was disappointed with how the season ended.
“It’s just a bummer to go out like that,” she said. “You get that feeling. They knew that Cat and our backline were not the same. And they came at us, and we were tentative in the first half. I think if we started different it would have been a different game.”
Fowlkes opened the scoring in the 14th minute. Chalupny sent a corner kick floating to the rear post where Fowles headed it down and in. It was hardly the first Chicago chance though. Chalupny smashed a shot just over as the Breakers started deep on their heels. Just before a half hour the Red Stars nearly made it 2-0 through Chalupny but her tricky shot was cleared by Eli Reed.
Perhaps a signature moment came at 41 minutes when Osborne passed up what looked like a good shot to lay the ball off, and the Red Stars broke up the play without a shot.
“Did I? Probably. I don’t remember.”
Any thoughts of momentum changing at halftime were dispelled in less than a minute. Masar make a strong run onto a Fowlkes long ball and crossed to Chalupny who easily beat Alice Binns despite not getting a shot on first touch.
“They players did a great job of coming out and getting right back in where we left off,” Dames said.
On the Breakers side, Cole said: “If I said one thing at halftime I said we’re reacting to this game. We need to get in and anticipate the game. They’re running at us, putting pressure on us, and causing us to make mistakes. If we know pressure is coming and we can play out of the pressure, we’ll be in good shape. We saw moments of good soccer out there where we were knocking it around. But we weren’t firing on all cylinders today. We had too many missing pieces.”
The third goal was the product of a cross by Julianne Stich. Her initial effort was blocked but she got it back and found Masar in front. DaCosta made it 3-1 less than 10 minutes from time when she put home a sharp-angle shot after a corner kick was bounced off several heads.
The Red Stars advance to Saturday’s championship match here against the Western New York Flash who earlier defeated the New York Fury 2-1. It is the Red Stars’ second consecutive season in a final. They lost the WPSL final in extra to the Orange County Waves one year ago.
The Flash won both regular season meetings, 2-1 in Chicago and 3-0 at Sahlen’s.
“When we played them last time they went pretty direct and didn’t really try to play a lot other than try to play behind us,” Dames said. “So we’re going to have to do a good job of keeping our line organized and dealing with the balls that they try to get in behind us.”
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