Recap: Portland Thorns vs. Chicago Red Stars

Portland puts the league on notice as the Red Stars continue to struggle.

By Savannah Moore

Well, well, well how about them Thorns? The Portland Thorns were already projected to be one of the top teams in the NWSL during the 2021 regular season after their 2021 Challenge Cup victory, but no one would’ve expected the dominance they displayed in their regular season opener against the Chicago Red Stars.  

The Thorns celebrate after scoring a goal.
(SOURCE: Craig Mitchelldyer/Thorns FC)

The Thorns showed no sign of a championship hangover on Sunday, and after winning the Challenge Cup in a thrilling penalty shootout, Portland didn’t leave anything to chance against the Red Stars. By the 16th minute of the opening half the Thorns already had a three goal lead, in what would be a 5–0 rout of the Red Stars. 

It’s not as if the Thorns claimed this victory over a depleted team. The Red Stars’ roster includes several current members of the US Women’s National Team, but Chicago has struggled over the past year. Which begs the question, what is wrong with the Red Stars?

(SOURCE: Chicago Tribune)

The Chicago Red Stars were the runner-ups to the 2019 NWSL Championship and the 2020 Challenge Cup, and have clearly shown the ability to compete with the best teams in the league. Their sixth place finish in the 2020 Fall Series left much to be desired, but that was without superstar Julie Ertz, who had opted out due to COVID-19. In order to improve following the Fall Series, Chicago struck a trade with Blue Sky FC (now NJ/NY Gotham FC) to acquire US Women’s National Team member Mallory Pugh.  

Despite her talent, Pugh has had an up and down NWSL career and has played for three teams in as many seasons. She’s suffered a series of injuries that have hindered her development within the league, but at 23 years old, she was a fantastic addition to a team that already had a deep roster and high expectations for 2021.

Mallory Pugh after scoring her first goal for the Chicago Red Stars
(Source: Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

The Red Stars fell well under those expectations during the 2021 Challenge Cup, finishing fourth in the West Division with two draws and two losses, while showing little signs of offensive firepower. On the bright side they were able to battle to a draw with the Houston Dash, and fought valiantly against the OL Reign, two of the better teams in the league. In fact, the Thorns were only able to muster up one goal when the two teams met during the 2021 Challenge Cup. Those performances also makes their ugly loss to the Thorns only a month later seem even more baffling. 

In the Red Stars defense, the Thorns are, undisputedly, the hottest team in the NWSL right now, and Chicago’s best defender, Julie Ertz, left the match early due to a knee injury. One still has to wonder, is the Red Stars’ recent history just a rough patch, or a sign of things to come?

The Chicago Red Stars will take on NJ/NY Gotham FC Saturday, May 22nd at 8:00 pm on Paramount+. The Portland Thorns look to continue their win streak on May 23rd against the OL Reign live on CBS Sports Network.

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