Earlier this season, the Red Stars spent the afternoon after a training session running through a Slip N Slide.
It’s not the typical way the Red Stars conclude practice, but on this particularly hot summer day in Chicago, coach Rory Dames decided to surprise his team.
It was a small effort to help this group bond before many of them left to compete for a World Cup. Looking back nearly five months later, it’s one moment of many that have helped develop the unwavering bond this team has today.
“It sounds cliche, but they actually are a team,” Dames said. “They actually do love playing together. They actually do want to accomplish something together. In a World Cup year with national team players in and out of market, that’s not always the way it is.”
There is no shortage of star power on this Red Stars roster that includes U.S. women’s national team players Julie Ertz, Alyssa Naeher, Morgan Brian, Tierna Davidson and Casey Short, plus three-time NWSL Golden Boot winner and Australia Women’s national team player Sam Kerr. And there is another World Cup champion on the Red Stars’ roster in Yuki Nagasato.
Reading that list of names may lead one to believe it’s the sheer level of talent that has guided this team to its fifth straight NWSL semifinal appearance.
That’s too obvious. This team’s success is a little bit deeper than that and it’s far more intangible than any one player.
“You can have a bunch of talented soccer players, but it’s also going to be the chemistry you have on and off the field,” Danielle Colaprico said. “We want to fight for each other because we are such good friends off the field. It makes it easier to win soccer games.”
The Red Stars finished the regular season 14-2-8. After a perfect September, when the team went 5-0, they earned a spot in the playoffs and home-field advantage for the second time in the organization’s history.
From the start of the season, the Red Stars were vocal about three specific goals: Make the playoffs, host a semifinal match and earn their first NWSL title.
They’ve secured two of those three so far.
“We had just come off a three-game losing streak, and we were disappointed with that,” Naeher said. “We knew we had better and higher expectations for ourselves. We knew we needed a push to make the playoffs and we wanted a home game. That was a goal from the beginning of the season.”
The Red Stars will be making their fifth straight semifinal appearance.
Sunday, they play host to the Portland Thorns, who are 10-1-9 all-time against the Red Stars. The Red Stars’ only win came in 2013.
“They do a good job of taking their chances against us,” Dames said. “They get into dangerous areas and we have to do a better job of not letting them into some of those spaces.”
Earlier this week, Red Stars owner Arnim Whisler estimated the team had surpassed 6,000 tickets sold for the match. They are on pace to sell between 8,000-10,000 by Sunday, which would keep them in the top five attendances for a Red Stars game.
For some, the 2019 NWSL postseason feels bigger than past years because of the cultural moment taking place within women’s soccer.
Everything from the USWNT’s fight for equal pay, to the World Cup win and the years of sacrifice from players within the NWSL has led to this time in sports history that will be remembered as a turning point for women’s soccer.
“To be a part of the NWSL is just being an agent of change,” Brian said. “It’s been awesome to be part of a league that’s lasted so long, and hopefully we continue to push for more in breaking boundaries for women’s sports. Obviously, for women’s soccer players but also women around the world.”