Red Stars advance to semifinals on MVP finalist Mallory Pugh’s goal

The Red Stars will head to Providence Park to play the top-seeded Thorns next Sunday.

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Mallory Pugh celebrates after her goal in the 61st minute of Sunday’s quarterfinal match.

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The Red Stars and Gotham FC played each other to two scoreless draws in the regular season. The teams also played to a scoreless first half of their quarterfinal match Sunday at SeatGeek Stadium.

Chances were there for the Red Stars, but they weren’t able to capitalize until the 61st minute. Sarah Woldmoe found Mallory Pugh, who put the ball in the top right corner of the goal on a shot from the left side of the box.

Gotham FC failed to answer. The Red Stars won 1-0 to return to the NWSL semifinals, where they’ll face the No. 1-seeded Thorns at 4:30 p.m. next Sunday in Portland, Oregon.

“The first half, it’s a playoff game, we were frantic,” said Sarah Gorden, who’s a finalist for defender of the year. “We were a little all over the place with our energy, so we came into the locker room and composed ourselves. We were on the front foot in the second half.”

When the Red Stars settled into the game, they connected on passes and excelled in transition. They finished with an overall passing accuracy of 58.5%.

The Red Stars took nine shots, three on goal. Pugh accounted for two of those shots on goal.

In the regular season, Pugh had four goals and four assists, earning her an MVP finalist nod. In her first NWSL playoff appearance, she proved again why she deserves to be among the top five nominees.

She nearly added a second goal in the 79th minute on a breakaway, but her attempt was saved by Gotham FC goalkeeper, Kailen Sheridan.

Pugh was substituted for Katie Johnson in the 86th minute and embraced by a roaring crowd of 7,027 fans. After the game, as the Red Stars walked around the field engaging with those fans, Pugh handed her jersey to one who proceeded to hold it up to her shoulders in disbelief.

“Mal’s finish was special,” coach Rory Dames said. “I’m not sure how much of that has to do with what’s gone on all year as opposed to having two really good plays in succession.

“How we defended as a group, we didn’t give away a lot of chances, we were able to keep them in front of us, the back four were outstanding. That has grown throughout the year, for sure.”

Carli Lloyd’s professional soccer career ended Sunday in Bridge-view. She shared hugs with her teammates and opponents before exiting the field to cheers from the fans.

Portland has not been an easy place to play for the Red Stars. They started the 2021 season at Providence Park and were handed a thorough 5-0 loss. At the end of September, the Red Stars beat the Thorns 2-1 at SeatGeek Stadium.

“It’s going to be an incredible challenge,” Gorden said. “This has been a year filled with adversity. This is the perfect next challenge, to go to Portland and make a statement after our last trip there.”

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