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Attacking Efficiency Pivotal for Red Stars in Home Opener

The Chicago Red Stars Celebrates Goal in the Red Stars Home Opener

ANALYSIS – There is indeed light at the end of the tunnel for the Chicago Red Stars. After finishing dead last in the NWSL in 2023, the Red Stars are off to a flying start in 2024. They defeated the Seattle Reign 2-1 at home on Saturday, making it two wins from two games so far this season.

Chicago Red Stars Home Opener Magic: Stars Align for the Stars

Lorne Donaldson Deploys 4-4-2

It was a busy offseason under new ownership for the Red Stars. No less than 14 new players joined the squad, either via trades or through the draft. The club also brought in Lorne Donaldson to lead the revamped side. Donaldson, who previously coached the Jamaican national team, had a successful touchline debut last week. His Red Stars triumphed 2-0 against the Utah Royals, so it should come as no surprise that they lined up almost identically against Seattle. Donaldson opted again for a 4-4-2 for the Red Stars’ home opener.

The only change to the Starting 11 was on the right wing, where Jenna Bike replaced Penelope Hocking. Bike made the most of the opportunity, creating chance after chance for the two strikers, Ally Schlegel and Mallory Swanson. Neither one would score, but both kept the Seattle defense under intense pressure. On the left flank, Nadia Gomes and Ava Cook played 45 minutes each. The double pivot consisted of Cari Roccaro and Julia Bianchi, the latter having her excellent performance rewarded with a goal. Bianchi would also earn player of the match honors.

At the back, the center-back pairing of Natalia Kuikka and Sam Staab impressed once again. They made several key tackles and blocked no shortage of shots. The Reign had 63% of the ball possession and registered 16 shots, but were held to just one goal (a magnificent equalizer from Ji So-Yun) by the stellar Chicago defense. Goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher played her part in the defensive masterclass, producing several key saves. Full-backs Taylor Malham and Maximiliene Rall were also instrumental in the Red Stars’ victory. They combined for the winning goal when Malham’s long through ball found Rall unmarked at the far post.

Red Stars Make Use of Their Chances

Much like in last week’s win, Chicago had no problem sitting back for large stretches of the game. The hosts relied on counter attacks to create chances and made very good use of them. The breakthrough came 42 minutes in, Bianchi connecting well on an awkward bouncing ball. Her shot was tipped onto the inside of the post and into the net by Reign goalkeeper, Claudia Dickey.

The start of the second half was marked by a period of defensive vulnerability for the Red Stars. They allowed the visitors to threaten Naeher, offering Jordyn Huitema and Sofia Huerta plenty of space down the right sideline. Ji, playing in the number 10 role, was particularly dangerous, and she finally converted in the 63rd minute. The ex-Chelsea star found the top right corner with a finish from outside the box, jolting Chicago awake.

It was at this moment that the Red Stars’ efficiency came into play. With Seattle buoyed by their equalizer, Donaldson’s side knew that chances for his team to retake the lead would be few and far between. When the Reign allowed Rall to sneak into the danger zone just five minutes after Ji’s strike, Chicago had to capitalize. Malham’s brilliant ball left her right-side counterpart in a 1-on-1 with Dickey, and she made no mistake. The goal was Rall’s first in the NWSL, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

Tight Defending Seals Home Opener Victory

Leaving Seattle to chase the game was exactly what the Red Stars wanted. There was no need to create too many chances, provided they converted the ones they did get. Moreover, Chicago knew better than to let Ji get another look at goal. On the rare chance that the Korean got the ball in the last 20 minutes, Staab and Kuikka swarmed her from two sides, giving her minimal breathing space. The strategy proved extremely effective, with the Reign only ever getting a chance on set pieces, and even those were all dealt with swiftly.

It was an incredibly level-headed and united performance from a side that boasts so many new additions. The game-plan was executed perfectly, much like last week, earning Chicago a deserved three points. In front of a passionate club-record crowd for a home opener (5,484), the new-look Red Stars looked firmly in control, particularly after their second goal. Donaldson has instilled in the side a new play style, one built on attacking efficiency and defensive consistency, and it’s made all the difference.

Positivity in the Chicago Camp

Coach Donaldson’s start to life in the NWSL has been, in a word, triumphant. His tactics have now left two of the league’s long-time managers, Amy Rodriguez and Laura Harvey, stupefied. Donaldson, however, defines his philosophy very simply. “You win or lose games in the box,” explains the Jamaican. “That’s something we prioritize,” he says, “because when you step up in the box, offensively or defensively, that’s the name of the game.” And indeed it was, as the Red Stars showed immense resolve en route to “a good grind win.”

Bianchi, who scored the opener (her first goal in the league), spoke on her good run of form as a starter under Donaldson. The Brazilian was primarily a substitute last season, explaining that it took her a while to “get the American style, which is a lot of transition and physical play.” She doubled down on this message when asked about the team’s sudden improvement in results, stating that “sometimes, it just takes time and last year, there was a lack of connection.” The connection is certainly there now, as the Red Stars marched to back-to-back victories to start the season. It’s the first time the club have ever achieved that feat.

Maximiliane Rall only made her league debut last week, but she’s already loving life in the NWSL. The former Bayern Munich defender said that football in the U.S. is “completely different from the game I played in Germany,” but proudly states that “everything is going well so far.” In regards to the Red Stars’ tactics this year, Rall explains that “when you’re good on defense, you have opportunities to win games.” These are words to live by, especially for a player from a country so renowned for its organized, crisp style of play.

Something Big Is Brewing – Chicago Red Stars Wins Home Opener

What a wild change in fortune it’s been for the Chicago Red Stars. After registering just seven wins from 24 games last year (a sub-30% win rate), the team is two-for-two this year. The drastic improvement comes from a variety of factors, and there’s no denying that Donaldson and this talented squad can make it very far. With strong backing from the ownership, tactical aptitude from the coaching staff, and hard work from the players, there’s no end to what they may accomplish.


Note: The Chicago Red Stars will next travel to Orlando to face the Orlando Pride at 7:00pm ET on March 29, 2024 and then will host Angel City FC at 9:30pm ET on April 13, 2024. During that same time-period, the Seattle Reign FC will travel to face both the San Diego Wave on March 29, 2024 at 10:00pm ET and also Bay FC on April 14, 2024 at 8:00pm ET.


Photo Credit: Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports, of a Chicago Red Stars Headshot, at SeatGeek Stadium on March 23, 2024.


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