Sunday, July 26, 2009


Chicago eliminated from WPS playoff picture, falls in closing minutes

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. - The Chicago Red Stars have been prone to allowing late, game changing goals throughout their inaugural Women’s Professional Soccer season. It happened once again Sunday afternoon as the Washington Freedom won, 3-2, in front of 5,226 spectators at Toyota Park.

Chicago’s loss eliminated the team from one of the league’s four playoff spots, certainly an unexpected result from an organization with incredibly high preseason expectations.

“It was an uphill battle even if we won the game today,” Red Stars head coach Emma Hayes said. “For us as a team from this point on, we want to make sure we put in good performances for our fans and start the rebuilding process going into next season. Make sure we have the vital pieces that will push this team on.”

The Red Stars (4-9-5) would have needed to win out and needed a bit of help from above them in the standings. Instead, Chicago lost an early lead Sunday and eventually the game, the last straw an Allie Long goal in the 89th minute to push Washington (6-6-5) past Chicago’s lackluster defensive stance.

“You could tell that there was a little sense of ‘oh, no, we’re on the ropes, this could be the end of our season’ sort of feel,” Freedom forward Abby Wambach said of the Red Stars’ play late in the game. “And as an opposing team we wanted to take advantage as much as we could of that.”

It marked the Freedom’s first win against the Red Stars, having posted a 0-1-2 record beforehand.

“They’ve gotten the better hand of us. They beat us the last game here. That’s how tight this league is,” Wambach said. “There’s ties that probably should have been wins for one team or the other. There’s losses. The games are very tight. And right now coming up, this is the end of the season and the playoffs are in sight. Every game is playoff contention. One win, you’re in, one loss, you’re out.”

Wambach lived up to her typical high billing, scoring two goals and earning several other scoring opportunities in both halves. She out-muscled Red Stars defender Ifeome Dieke in the 35th minute to tie the score at 1-all, and gave Washington a 2-1 lead in the 56th.

Shortly after the Red Stars’ Heather Garriock came into the game for midfielder Lindsay Tarpley in the 68th minute, Garriock provided the game-tying assist to Karen Carney. Carney’s strike hit just inside the far left post in the 69th minute and tied the score at 2-all.

But the Freedom continued to hold the edge attacking-wise and had the final say in the 89th. Caroline Jonsson (pictured above) made a whopping 11 saves in the net for the Red Stars. Her counterpart, Erin McLeod, only made two saves.

Chicago appeared to be ready for this match from the start, though. Megan Rapinoe gave the Red Stars a 1-0 lead in the 15th minute. Carli Lloyd provided a perfectly timed send from the back. Rapinoe got the ball in stride, evaded one defender on the right flank and shot near post past McLeod for the tally.

The energy level appeared to drop from that point forward.

“After the first goal, I think we were very flat,” Hayes said. “We looked quite tired. The heat seemed to drain us quite a bit. We struggled to retain the ball and equally struggled to transition when we lost it.”

* * *

Next up: The Red Stars play in their final home game of the season against the first-place Los Angeles Sol on Sunday, Aug. 2. Game time is at 5 p.m., with a telecast on Fox Soccer Channel.

* * * thoughts: Though the Red Stars are out of the playoff picture, the full season debut reflection can be put on hold for a couple of weeks. Quickly said, it is disappointing to hear Hayes use the phrase “rebuilding process” when this lineup had some key U.S. National Team talent and some spark from Cristiane to use as this team’s foundation. More was expected from this group.

Back to Sunday’s game, the Red Stars were outplayed by the Freedom for the majority of the match. And Jonsson has simply been in a position where she has faced far too many shots against Washington all season. She has saved Chicago on numerous occasions, making her one of the most vital players and top goalkeepers in this league. Who knows where this team would be without her. But she can’t do everything in every tight game. The defensive line and the midfield needed to do their part, too.

The second-half substitution of Rapinoe was a bit of a head scratcher in the 55th minute. This is not a slight on Ella Masar, but rather a surprise that the team’s only goal scorer up to that point was taken out in a must-win situation.

This team has had issues regarding the timing of their runs and passes. The Lloyd-Rapinoe hookup in the 15th minute probably was one of the more fluid runs all season. But beyond that, there was the return of several half shots/crosses, a couple passes with no Red Stars player in the vicinity, a lack of possession, some chatter from Carney and Lloyd trying to get on the same page in one particular non-sequence.

Those are the challenges that this Red Stars team failed to meet. Individual talent helps, but from a cohesive and execution standpoint, it has been quite a bumpy road. Those are issues that can’t be a topic of discussion having had 18 games now to get that corrected, and thus they will not see the postseason in 2009.

It is all for pride at this point. A win against Marta and the Los Angeles Sol would be a nice accomplishment. The Brazilian foes, Marta and Cristiane, go head-to-head. Perhaps this matchup will make for one of the Red Stars’ best attendance draws of the season.

If only they were playing for a little bit more.

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