Vanessa DiBernardo gets fired up during a home match against Gotham FC on May 22. She and her teammates were fired up four days later after beating KC on the road, 2-0. Photo by Jeff Vorva
Red Stars Report: Pugh shines as Stars get first win; Dames fumes at refs
By Jeff Vorva
The Chicago Red Stars will not be winless when they return to Bridgeview.
The team pulled off its first victory of the NWSL season with a 2-0 road triumph over Kansas City on May 26.
But on May 29, Red-Star-for-a-minute Kristy Mewis scored what proved to be the game-winning goal in the 83rd minute of a 2-1 road loss to Houston.
Chicago (1-2-1) returns home to SeatGeek Stadium on Saturday to face the North Carolina Courage, which is 1-1-1 after a convincing 5-0 victory over Racing Louisville FC on May 29.
The Red Stars came into the KC match scoreless after a 5-0 loss to Portland to begin the season and a 0-0 standoff with New Jersey/New York Gotham FC I the home opener.
Kealia Watt came off the bench and broke the 157-minute drought with a goal in the 67th minute against KC (0-1-2). Three minutes later, Makenzy Doniak added an insurance goal. Both were assisted by Mallory Pugh.
“It’s a relief,” Watt said about the season-opening goal. “There is a lot of pressure when you don’t score at the beginning of the season. Our last game, we created so many chances and were so close to scoring.
“[Coach Rory Dames] reminded us that as soon as one comes, they all start coming. We are relieved and excited.”
The lineup was shuffled as the Red Stars were in the middle of a three-games-in-eight-days stretch.
Pugh, normally a starter, played her first 90-minute game in two years in the Gotham draw and entered the KC game along with Watt in the 61st minute, and good things started to happen.
Pugh also scored the Stars’ lone goal in the fourth minute of the Houston battle.
“A lot of people have written Mal off or moved on from Mal,” Dames said. “Mal came into the league with a ton of expectations, which were probably a little bit unfair to her given how old she was and where she was and having some injuries. Mal is young, If you don’t know how young Mal is, you should look it up.”
Pugh is 23.
Goalie Alyssa Naeher picked up her second straight shutout in the win over KC.
Mewis had an interesting-but-brief career with the Red Stars. Washington traded her to Chicago on Aug. 21, 2017, and she appeared in one game, scoring a goal against her old teammates to help knock them out of playoff contention. She was traded to Houston nine days later.
Ripping the refs
Dames said he will deal with the consequences of his words after the Dash loss, but he let loose on the NWSL officiating this season. He gave examples of what he thinks have been impactful incorrect calls.
“I can count that maybe three times in all my time here that I have said anything about the referees, but the level of refereeing is really poor,” he said. “There are three games in a row we should have had penalty kicks in big moments. There is no consistency from game-to-game [on yellow-card calls]. You have no idea what’s a foul.
“The level of officiating is back to Year 1. If PRO’s [Professional Referee Organization] priority is the Major Soccer League because that’s who funds them, so be it. But get somebody where the NWSL is their priority. The officiating is a big problem right now and it’s something the league needs to address.”
He clarified that he was not blaming the officials for losses.
“Did we lose the game because of the referee tonight? Absolutely not. Nope. Not at all,” he said. “But … in every game we’ve played, the referees have struggled. Really struggled.”
Soon to be missing
Two Red Stars standouts will miss a few league games in June. Naeher and defender Tierna Davidson are on the 23-player United States Women’s National Team training camp roster. They are scheduled to play Portugal on June 10, Jamaica on June 13 and Nigeria on June 16.
Red Stars midfielder Julie Ertz has been ruled out of the Summer Series with an MCL injury sustained during the season-opener in Portland.
In 69 career appearances, Naeher has 40 career shutouts with the national team. She has played in six matches for the team in 2021. Naeher was in net during the squad’s victories over France and Sweden in the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Davidson, 22, has 29 international appearances, one goal and five assists. She has made several appearances for the squad in 2021, including a start in the national team’s match against Argentina in the finale of the SheBelieves Cup.
What about Mal?
Dames believes Pugh should be a part of the U.S. team as well.
“I was surprised she was left off the camp roster,” he said. “I think that’s a mistake. But that’s why I’m coaching here and Vlatko [Adonovski] is coaching there. I respect Vlatko and his decisions. But she’s only going to get better.”