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Counterattack lifts Chicago past KC, keeps hopes alive

Christen Press had a goal and an assist for Chicago in a critical 2-1 win over FC Kansas City. (Photo Copyright Erica McCaulley for The Equalizer)

Christen Press had a goal and an assist for Chicago in a critical 2-1 win over FC Kansas City. (Photo Copyright Erica McCaulley for The Equalizer)

The Chicago Red Stars kept their playoff hopes alive on Saturday with a 2-1 victory over FC Kansas City at home at Benedictine University. With the win, Chicago pulls within 2 pts. of Portland, for the fourth and final NWSL playoff spot.

Having already locked in the No. 2 seed — and playing in their final regular season match of 2014 — FC Kansas City rested several starters, and the Blues went down early on a pair of Chicago counterattacks in the first half.

Chicago went ahead in the 9th minute on a classic Red Stars counterattack. After the third successive Kansas City corner kick, the Red Stars took possession of the ball and sprung Christen Press near midfield. Press took a touch around Leigh Ann Robinson and blazed by the defender before ripping a shot at Sarah Keane, starting in net for the resting Nicole Barnhart. Keane made the initial save, but Tancredi ran in unmarked to tap-in the rebound.

Press nearly created a second goal for the Red Stars in the 27th minute but for a miss from close range by Alyssa Mautz. Press turned the corner on left flank, got to the endline and played a negative ball back to Mautz, who put her left-footed shot wide from 10 yards out.

Three minutes later, Jen Buczkowski found Blues forward Amy Rodriguez, who faked outside, spun inside and ripped a left-footed shot that beat Chicago goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc but couldn’t beat the far post as it clanked back out into the field of play.

Press extended Chicago’s lead on a goal that was nearly a mirror image of the opener, except this time, she finished the shot. Press torched Kansas City’s defense again before chipping Keane for the second goal.

But Kansas City got on the scoreboard two minutes before halftime, when Merritt Mathias sent a low cross into the box that met Morgan Marlborough’s right foot for the smashing shot from six yards out.

Lauren Holiday, who forced LeBlanc into a big save on a 39th minute volley, nearly sent the teams to halftime level with what would have been a goal of the year candidate. Holiday performed a spin move at the top of the 18-yard box and toe-poked a shot headed just under the crossbar, forcing LeBlanc into a big save.

The Red Stars knew that anything but a win could cripple their playoff hopes, and a missed goal in the 63rd minute could have been their undoing. Adriana Leon cut inside and hit a right-footed shot that went into the far side netting and over the line, but the ball hit the inner support post on the temporary goals on Benedectine’s multi-purpose field, bouncing back out of the goal frame. Referee Katja Koroleva and her assistant both failed to recognize the ball had crossed the line, but it did not cost the Red Stars, who were able to hold on for the victory.

“We basically started the playoffs today,” Red Stars coach Rory Dames said. “This keeps our season alive. We came out well and scored two good goals, as well as Karina (LeBlanc) making three big saves. That’s the best ‘team’ win we’ve had since all the new players came in.”

Chicago (8-7-7, 31 pts.) will now hope the Thorns (9-7-6, 33 pts.) drop points on the road on Sunday against the last-place Boston Breakers.


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