Red Stars season ends in title loss, controversy

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Soccer ball flies through the net in the goal.

By Skyler Kisellus, Sports Editor

The Chicago Red Stars closed out their 2021 campaign as the league runner-up after losing to the Washington Spirits 2-1 in the National Women’s Soccer League Championship Nov. 20 in Louisville, Kentucky.

The Red Stars began a promising playoff run with consecutive wins against the NJ/NY Gotham FC and the Portland Thorns. However, Chicago was unable to hold off Washington defender Kelley O’Hara, who scored the game-winning goal in the first half of extra time of the NWSL Championship.

“I am proud of these players, the coaching staff and our medical staff for making it to a championship game for the third-straight year, a record not seen by any other Chicago sports franchise in recent years,” chairman and principal owner Arnim Whisler said.

The Red Stars began their playoff run with a 1-0 victory over the NJ/NY Gotham FC in the NWSL Championship quarterfinals on Nov. 7. A curl shot by Chicago forward Mallory Pugh to the back post in the 61st minute gave the Red Stars their lone score of the match.

Chicago then proceeded to knock off the Portland Thorns in the following semifinals round on Nov. 14, holding their opponents scoreless for the third consecutive match, including the season finale victory over the Orlando Pride. Goals by forward Katie Johnson and midfielder Sarah Woldmoe helped lead Chicago to its third-straight championship game appearance.

Ahead of their championship bout, the Red Stars announced their 2021 season player award winners on Nov. 16. Forward Kealia Watt received the Golden Boot award, which is given to the player with the most goals scored during the season. Pugh was chosen to receive two awards, being honored as Newcomer of the Year and the team’s Most Valuable Player. The full list of award winners can be found on the Chicago Red Stars team website.

Scoring in Saturday’s Championship Game opened with a goal by forward Rachel Hill in the 45th minute to give Chicago an early 1-0 lead. Washington would respond with a penalty shot by midfielder Andi Sullivan just after the half to tie the score at 1-1. Washington’s O’Hara scored her first goal of the season in the 97th minute for what would also be the game-deciding score, giving the Spirits the 2-1 victory and their first NWSL title.

Following Chicago’s championship loss, Red Stars head coach Rory Dames informed ownership Sunday of his intention to resign from his position as head coach.

Allegations against Dames have come out since his resignation. The former Red Stars head coach has been accused of “verbal and emotional abuse by several players,” according to a report by ESPN.

“I think Rory (Dames) emotionally abuses players,” Angel City FC forward and U.S. National team player Christen Press wrote in a formal complaint seen by The Washington Post. “He doesn’t have a safe distance between himself and his players. He uses his power and status as the coach to manipulate players and get close to them.”

Amid reports of Dames’ misconduct during his tenure with the team, the Red Stars announced in a statement that they had “initiated an independent review of player health and safety and the team’s culture and work environment” several weeks ago.

The NWSL Players’ Association also made a statement on Twitter in support of those individuals making allegations against the former Red Stars head coach.

“This type of coaching has no place in the NWSL, youth soccer or anywhere else. We stand with Christen Press, Jen Hoy, Sam Johnson and any player who comes forward to speak out against abuse of any kind,” the statement read.

As the situation continues to unfold, Chicago will continue the search for their next head coach and look to rebound from a heartbreaking championship loss ahead of the 2022 season.