Red Stars players thank their fans at the end of Sunday's 2-0 win over Angel City to qualify for the NWSL playoffs. The team will be on the road in the postseason.  Photo by Jeff Vorva

Red Stars players thank their fans at the end of Sunday's 2-0 win over Angel City to qualify for the NWSL playoffs. The team will be on the road in the postseason. Photo by Jeff Vorva

Pro Soccer Report: Red Stars claim playoff spot, will face San Diego in first round

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By Jeff Vorva
Staff Writer

In a joking attempt to jinx the Chicago Red Stars into losing to or drawing with Angel City in a game with playoff implications, the North Carolina Courage’s twitter account made two references to supposed Chicago Cubs’ hexes.

“Rumor has it a guy named Steve Bartman rode into SeatGeek Stadium on a billy goat tonight,” the tweet on Oct. 1 read. “We dunno what that means but it sounds promising.”

Whether Bartman or a billy goat were in the vicinity of Bridgeview or not made no difference. There were no hexes.

With Mallory Pugh and Yuki Nagasato on the field, that meant good things for the Red Stars and bad news for North Carolina. Both players scored goals while the defense and goalie Alyssa Naeher posted a shutout in a 2-0 victory over Angel City to grab the NWSL’s sixth and final playoff spot.  It was Pugh’s team-high 10th goal of the season.

The Courage fell to seventh place and is on the outside looking in this postseason.

The game drew 8,347 patrons, the largest Red Stars’ crowd at SeatGeek this season.

It’s the seventh straight year the Red Stars qualified for the playoffs. They will face fourth-seeded San Diego on the road at Snapdragon Stadium in the first round of the playoffs at 9 p.m. Oct. 16. The Red Stars (9-7-6, 33 points) lost 2-1 to the Wave in San Diego on May 15 and 1-0 on July 30 at Soldier Field.

“It’s been a rollercoaster of emotions the last 10 days or so,” Naeher said. “Last week (a 3-0 loss at Portland) was very deflating, more so that we lost control of our own destiny. We kept training all week and we knew that if we got a chance we wanted to be ready and take advantage of it.”

Getting that chance was tricky. The Red Stars would not have had the opportunity if North Carolina had won on Sept. 30.

PUGH VS ANGEL CITY scaled

Mallory Pugh advances the ball before scoring her 10th goal of the season in a 2-0 victory over Angel City on Oct. 2 at SeatGeek Stadium. Photo by Jeff Vorva

The wild weekend of action opened Friday night when North Carolina, which was at the time holding the sixth spot, engaged in a scoreless draw with San Diego and fifth-place Houston beat Washington, 2-1.

That set up a scenario where the Red Stars had to beat Angel City. A draw or a tie would have meant the Red Stars would been out of the postseason after finishing league runner-up each of the past two full seasons.

Angel City came into that match in eighth place and its only chance of making the playoffs was to beat the Red Stars by 16 goals.

Red Stars veteran Vanessa DiBernardo said the match was like a playoff game.

“It showed a lot of character for us,” she said. “It’s a young group, and having this experience and having that kind of game right before the playoffs is a good thing for us.”

The OL Reign finished first in the regular season with 40 points, followed by Portland (39), San Diego (36), Houston (36) and Kansas City (36).

Washington, last year’s NWSL champ, finished 11th in the 12-team league with 19 points.

 

One for each finger

Bianca St.-Georges was suspended for the game after giving the middle finger to officials with both hands during a Sept. 25 game at Portland. The NWSL tacked on a second game for her punishment, and she will also be out for the San Diego playoff game.

St.-Georges was apologetic in a statement.

“First, I would like to apologize to all our young fans who were watching or have seen coverage of the incident and my gesture,” she said. “I’m disheartened that I’ve set a bad example of how to behave on and off the field. I want to emphasize that this is in no way for anyone to act regardless of being in an emotional state.

“I also want to emphasize the importance of being accountable for your actions and taking ownership of your mistakes. I broke the rules of conduct and accept the NWSL’s disciplinary decision. I’m hurt I won’t be on the field with my teammates, but I’m doing my part in helping the team prepare and I will be in the stands to cheer them on.”

 

Get to the Geek

Even though the Chicago Fire moved from SeatGeek Stadium to Soldier Field, it still plays occasional games at in Bridgeview when there is a conflict with the Bears’ schedule.

The Fire has one more game there this season and it takes place at 1:30 p.m. Sunday. There will be plenty of reasons for fans to come out even though the Fire was eliminated from postseason possibilities weeks ago.

The battle will be against New England and legendary coach Bruce Arena. He is the first coach in MSL history to rack up 250 wins.

The team will celebrate its 25th anniversary all weekend. On Saturday, alumni will be in the Chicago area for events and prior to the match on Sunday, fans will have the opportunity to receive autographs and take photos with former players such as Chris Armas, DaMarcus Beasley, Mike Magee, Pável Pardo, Brian McBride, and two-time FIFA World Player of the Year and Balon d’Or winner Hristo Stoichkov.

After the game, there will be a post-match concert featuring Puerto Rican singer and rapper Lunay.

During the Oct. 9 match, Fire players will be wearing commemorative jerseys in honor of the anniversary. The jerseys will be available to fans via an auction, with all proceeds benefiting the Chicago Fire Foundation’s P.L.A.Y.S. Program.

 

Kids are all right

The Fire (10-15-8) heads into the final game on a high note on the heels of a 3-2 road victory over Cincinnati.

The win featured a pair of goals by 18-year-old Colombian international Jhon Durán, plus a goal and two assists from 19-year-old homegrown player Brian Gutiérrez.

Durán leads the Fire in scoring with eight goals and is the 12th player in MLS history to record at least 10 combined goals and assists in a single season at the age of 18 or younger.

TATUMN ANGEL CITY scaled

Orland Park’s Tatumn Milazzo (right) helped anchor the defense in Sunday’s 2-0 victory over Angel City to secure a playoff spot. Photo by Jeff Vorva

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