The Chicago Red Stars booked a trip to the NWSL playoffs for the third consecutive season after a 3-2 victory over the Houston Dash at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston. A Christen Press penalty off a questionable handball call in first half stoppage time proved to be the difference on the night. Jen Hoy and Casey Short also scored for the Red Stars. Amber Brooks converted a penalty and Rachel Daly scored one of the goals of the season in a losing effort for the Dash.
Needing the full three points to assure another trip to the playoffs, the Red Stars came out full throttle and applied all the early pressure. It paid off with a goal in the 12th minute. First Arin Gilliland won possession and started an attack through Julie Ertz who found Press. The initial shot by Press was saved by Jane Campbell who dove to her right and parried it all the way out for a throw-in. Off the ensuing throw, Short hit a cross that Hoy swooped in to get a head on. Campbell made another great save but her momentum carried her back into the goal where she was helpless to do anything about the rebound.
The Red Stars doubled up in the 20th minute. Hoy earned a corner kick that Vanessa DiBernardo sent to the far post. Campbell came out to grab it but it slipped out behind her and fell to Short. With no time to get back into position, Campbell watched helplessly as Short smashed it into the open goal.
The Dash picked up the tempo after going down two goals and were rewarded just a few minutes later. The Red Stars cleared out a Dash corner kick and Cami Levin sent it back toward the area. Julie Ertz got too aggressive trying to mark Kristie Mewis and took her down, resulting in a penalty call. Amber Brooks calmly buried it to make it 2-1.
In first half stoppage time, Short entered the box by nutmegging Claire Falknor and Brooks was whistled for a penalty as she raced over to challenge. Replays showed Brooks barely touched the ball, if at all, but the call stood and Press sent the game to halftime 3-1.
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The lone goal of the second half came off the head of Daly who sneaked between Short and Sam Johnson to get to Kristie Mewis’s ball in. The ball took one bounce in the box after which Daly met it and beat Alyssa Naeher with as perfect a finish as you’ll see.
Things became a bit more interesting a few moments later when Daly was on the receiving end of a studs-up tackle from Yuki Nagasato. The card was red, reducing the Red Stars to 10 and rendering Nagasato unavailable for next weekend’s finale in Portland.
The win lifted the Red Stars (11-6-6, 39 pts) to 3rd place ahead of their trip to Portland next Saturday. That game could serve as a semifinal preview. If not the Red Stars will be in North Carolina for their semifinal. Those Courage are the next opponent for the Dash (7-13-2, 23 pts) who will host them at HEB Park in Edinburg, Texas on Wednesday night. A home match for the Dash, it will be the makeup of the August 27 postponement due to Hurricane Harvey. They will then finish their season Sunday, October 1 in Kansas City.