Allston, Mass.—In the 73rd minute of tonight’s match against the Boston Breakers, Chicago Red Stars Head Coach Emma Hayes made an unusual substitution: She pulled midfielder Karen Carney and sent in forward Ella Masar.
While it’s not rare to see a manager make an offensive substitution in an effort to make up a deficit, Hayes’s move was notable because when she made it, Chicago already held a 2-0 lead away from home. The manager’s decision, though, was an appropriate metaphor for what Chicago did to Boston in a vicious second half that could have ended worse for the Breakers than it did.
“Why not?” Hayes (pictured with this article) responded when asked about her go-for-the-jugular tactics. “We knew we had them on the back foot. We could have had three or four [goals].”
As it turned out, the Red Stars scored twice, which was more than enough to sink a disorganized Breakers side that had trouble holding possession and managed very few serious scoring chances. The 2-0 victory was Chicago’s first win of the season and Boston’s first loss.
In their first three games, the Red Stars had managed only two losses and a draw. After tonight’s win, they have four points in the table, just one fewer than the Breakers. For their part, the Breakers have now won one match, tied two and lost one—and have failed to win at home in their first two attempts. Most fans in the raucous crowd of 5180 left Harvard Stadium disappointed.
The match could have gone quite differently had Chicago goalkeeper Jillian Loyden not quite literally used her head to make the save of the match in first-half extra time. Boston forward Lauren Cheney got on the end of a Fabiana cross and sent in a blistering ball that hit Loyden in the face. Loyden’s “save,” such as it was, served to keep the game at 0-0 and close out a mostly uneventful first half.
“It hit [Loyden] in the face, and it was a game-changing moment,” Hayes said. It was at halftime that the Red Stars players made it known to Hayes that they could have the better of Boston. “They said, ‘They’re frightened of us; we’re going after them,” Hayes said. “I said, ‘I have nothing to say to you.’”
From that point on, the Red Stars did their talking on the pitch. Gradually, they managed to put together a cohesive attack, building on Boston’s inability to control the ball at midfield. Finally, in the 62nd minute, the dam broke. Chicago forward Casey Nogueira took a cross directly in front of goal and sliced it across the body of Boston goalie Ashley Phillips—from Phillips’s left-hand side to her right—and into the corner of the net.
“I think Karen Carney put it across,” Nogueira said of the ball that led to the goal. “I just sprinted and shot it across the goal line. The goal gave us confidence and put Boston on their heels.”
Indeed, the goal transformed the Red Stars, who had been feeling pressure to get their first victory of the season. Seven minutes later, in the 69th minute, Brazilian forward Cristiane streaked up the left wing to a ball that had floated into space, controlled it, and slammed a tight-angle shot past a prone Phillips. The ball again traveled from Phillips’s left-hand side to her right and into the net.
Hayes’s attacking substation followed, and while it didn’t lead to another goal, it sent a message that the Red Stars were confident that a good offense could be their best defense. The last 20 minutes of the match brought more chances for Chicago than for Boston—Cristiane bonked a ball off of Phillips’s left-hand post in the 76th minute after running onto a fine ball from Nogueira. The Breakers produced a few scoring chanced but never looked close to equalizing in the last 15 minutes.
Boston suffered its first shutout of the season and mostly folded in the second half after a solid but unspectacular first period. The Breakers also struggled to keep possession of the ball, particularly after halftime, and their attack was disorganized and out of sync for most of the evening.
Recognizing his club’s shortfalls, Breakers Head Coach Tony DiCicco nevertheless rued the team’s missed chances: “We kept on giving the ball away, and they took advantage of it,” DiCicco said. “They worked really hard, and they made us make mistakes. If we took advantage of our chances [during the first half], it would have been a different game. They took advantage of their chances, so give them credit.”
Potent Boston striker Lauren Cheney, held in check tonight, said that possession is a problem that the Breakers will have to overcome: “We had a little issue in the midfield today,” Cheney said. “Timing was not good, and we had big gaps. We did not find ways to close those. I know we’ll change. Once we play with each other a little bit more, this will no longer be an issue.”
But the main factor in tonight’s game might have simply been motivation; Chicago, desperate to win, took the game in the second half to a Boston team that couldn’t match its opponent’s desire for victory.
“We looked a little dead out there,” Boston captain Kristine Lilly said. “We did not have the heart. That’s something we need to look at. You have to give Chicago credit. They came to win this game, and they played like it.”