Professional sports made its return to the United States on Saturday as the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) resumed play with the NWSL Challenge Cup in Herriman, Utah. The tournament began on Saturday afternoon with a thrilling game between the North Carolina Courage and the Portland Thorns, with the defending league champion Courage claiming a 2-1 victory.
Looking to keep the momentum rolling, the Chicago Red Stars and Washington Spirit took to the pitch for the nightcap from beautiful Zions Bank Stadium.
As was the case in the early game, the Spirit claimed a 2-1 victory of their own on the strength of goals by Rose Lavelle and Ashley Hatch.
Fans watching at home felt an immediate emotional investment to this contest due in part to a special moment between Red Stars teammates Casey Short and Julie Ertz. As the national anthem began and her teammates took a knee to stand in solidarity with the Black community, Casey Short fell to both knees and began crying. She was consoled by Ertz throughout the duration of the song. Following the anthem, several of her Chicago teammates checked on the defender and the action was underway.
It took just eight minutes for the first goal to be tallied. Washington’s Rose Lavelle found teammate Ashley Hatch making a brilliant run through the heart of the Red Star defense, the forward took a shot that was saved by goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher. Hungry for a goal, Lavelle followed her shot, collected the rebound, and scored the goal to give her team an early 1-0 advantage.
The Spirit maintained a strong edge in the midfield throughout the first half and nearly doubled their lead towards halftime. Lavelle continued her strong performance, making a terrific run between the two Chicago center backs and had Naeher in her sights. The Chicago backstop stood tall to make the save and keep her team in the game heading into the locker room at the break.
Washington emerged from the tunnel looking to put the game out of reach early. The Spirit continued to harass the Red Stars defense and it paid dividends moments into the second half. Forward Ashley Hatch pressured the Red Stars keeper into a heavy touch, she took the ball and put it in the back of the net to double the lead at 2-0.
Five minutes later the Red Stars answered with a goal of their own.
Midfielder Morgan Gautrat (neé Brian) pounced on a loose ball that slipped through the Washington defense, placing her shot to the right of goalkeeper Audrey Bledsoe to cut the lead in half at 2-1.
Chicago’s newly acquired forward Kealia Watt almost tied the game in the 57th minute, making a run down the near side of the pitch, cutting inside and taking a shot that was saved by Bledsoe on her near post.
Both teams traded chances throughout the remainder of the contest but the Spirit held on to claim a 2-1 victory over the Red Stars.
A tale of two halves
It was a real Jekyll and Hyde performance from the Red Stars throughout the first half. It became apparent that head coach Rory Dames is still searching for his replacement for the departed Sam Kerr.
Is it time to hit the panic button? Not yet.
If you missed the moments between Casey Short and Julie Ertz prior to kickoff Saturday night, you owe it to yourself to check it out. It serves as a reminder that these talented athletes maybe our heroes but they are still capable of feeling emotions during these dark and unprecedented times.
The Red Stars return to action on Wednesday, July 1 as they take on the Portland Thorns. Kickoff is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. and can be seen on CBS All-Access.