The Chicago Red Stars' playoff hopes for their inaugural Women's Professional Soccer campaign hit an all-time low Sunday. Sky Blue FC's Kerri Hanks scored in second-half stoppage time en route to a 1-0 victory over Chicago at Yurcak Stadium in Piscataway, N.J.
With three regular-season games remaining, Chicago is almost out of the four-team playoff picture. The Red Stars fall to 4-8-5 and have 17 points, sitting in sixth place. Sky Blue improved to 6-6-4 and 22 points, good for the fourth spot in the WPS standings.
"I don't think that the team was good enough today in the attack," Red Stars head coach Emma Hayes said. "And we weren't able to create a great deal of chances. Sky Blue FC deserves credit for that."
It did not help that the Red Stars were without four of their regular starters - Karen Carney, Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe and Lindsay Tarpley. Carney was playing for England's national team and the remaining trio was with the U.S. Women's National Team for a 1-0 victory over Canada. Only Rapinoe saw playing time.
Sunday's WPS match clearly had that feel of some missing stars. Sky Blue FC and the Red Stars combined for seven shots on goal - only two from Sky Blue. But Hanks' was the only one in the back of the net, a goal that came 44 seconds into stoppage time as she struck the ball at the top of the box. Red Stars goalkeeper Caroline Jonsson did not even move, possibly dealing with the low sun glaring at her eyes and unable to read the ball.
Jonsson had only one save while Sky Blue's Jenni Branam had five.
Sky Blue certainly deserved an early lead in this game. In the 5th minute, Natasha Kai received a cross from Kacey White and had a 1-on-1 situation against Jonsson. But Kai's shot missed left of the goal as the Red Stars' defense caught a huge break.
The Red Stars' offense lingered near the goal on a few occasions, but rarely did they put a solid strike on the ball toward the goal. The best look probably came from Chioma Igwe (pictured above) in the 57th minute. Jill Oakes provided a good ball from a free kick and Igwe's header went just right of the net.
Ella Masar had a header attempt in the 90th minute on a Cristiane pass. Masar tried to find the right side of the net, but Branam was in a strong position to make the save.
Next up: The Red Stars host the Washington Freedom for a 3 p.m. match on Sunday, July 26, at Toyota Park. A Web cast will be available at ChicagoRedStars.com.
SlideTackles.net thoughts: Mathematically, it's not over. But the tires have definitely lost a lot of air. The Red Stars need a lot of help, and they obviously need to win out over their final three matches.
Chicago looked completely lost offensively on Sunday. Cristiane being the only substantial threat tried to do quite a bit on her own to dribble through Sky Blue's defense, but to little success. Masar showed some hustle, but Chicago's front line posted some very weak shots. Masar's rolling shot in the 42nd minute, with a high-percentage angle and distance, was just one of several instances where Chicago could have challenged Branam a bit more.
One of the few bright spots was the play of Chicago defender Oakes. She had an assortment of strong markings and clears when Sky Blue tried to establish an attack, whether it was during a run or a set piece.
The Red Stars' back line play, which was shuffled around earlier in the season, has actually had some stronger moments of late. Unfortunately the team's offense has not done its job, netting two or more goals only three times this season, accounting for three of the team's four wins.
The full Red Stars team returns to close out the season for three more games, but the playoffs look nearly lost at this stage.