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Red Stars search for cohesion after 5-0 loss to Thorns in season opener

“In my seven years here, this is the worst loss we’ve taken as a team,” defender Arin Wright said.

Portland Thorns forward Morgan Weaver (22) hits a header against the Red Stars during an NWSL soccer match on May 16 in Portland, Oregon.
Portland Thorns forward Morgan Weaver (22) hits a header against the Red Stars during an NWSL soccer match on May 16 in Portland, Oregon.
Sean Meagher/AP

Ahead of the Red Stars’ opening match of the 2021 NWSL season against the Portland Thorns on Sunday night, coach Rory Dames said his team was always able to stay even-tempered regardless of results.

He credited that fact to the leadership within the team.

After their 5-0 loss to the Thorns, disappointment was the collective emotion felt amongst the Red Stars.

“In my seven years here, this is the worst loss we’ve taken as a team,” defender Arin Wright said.

What’s hard to understand for players and fans is that this team had two months of preseason training and an entire month of competition to get ready. Pair that with the depth on this roster, and there aren’t many excuses that explain the team’s inability to contain the Thorns’ attack.

Wright and fellow defender Sarah Gorden agreed that the team still is developing cohesion.

“It can be difficult when you have this many talented players,” Gorden said. “It takes longer to find that chemistry on the field.”

The team started the week with a day off Monday before diving back into training ahead of its game against Gotham FC on Saturday. Gotham is coming off a Challenge Cup finals appearance in which it lost to the Thorns in a penalty shootout after a 1-1 draw.

The Red Stars will be without midfielder Julie Ertz who suffered a right knee MCL sprain after colliding with Thorns midfielder Rocky Rodríguez in the 28th minute of the season opener. She is currently rehabbing and is expected to be back for the U.S. women’s national team’s Olympic send-off games.

Following the home opener, the team will play two matches on the road in four days.

First, the Red Stars visit Kansas City at 7 p.m. Wednesday, then they head to Houston next Saturday. It’s the Red Stars’ first match in Houston since the NWSL announced there would be no disciplinary action following the investigation into Gorden’s claim that a BBVA Stadium security guard racially profiled her and her boyfriend.

Before the opener against the Thorns, the Red Stars opted not to come out on the field for the playing of the national anthem.

This decision was sparked by a video the NWSL published in April promoting a documentary on the 2020 Challenge Cup in Utah. In it was a clip of an emotional embrace between Casey Krueger and Julie Ertz during the anthem ahead of the team’s match against the Washington Spirit.

That moment went viral, but many outlets failed to acknowledge the trauma at the root of it. The Red Stars collectively felt the league exploited Krueger.

The Red Stars did not play the anthem ahead of their two Challenge Cup matches at SeatGeek Stadium, and some players opted to stay in the locker room for the anthem while they were on the road.

Before the opener in Portland, Oregon, the players decided that they would remain in the locker room as a team.

Moving forward, Gorden said she anticipates the Red Stars will be on the field for the anthem. Gorden and Wright both said it’s important to take a stance publicly against police brutality and systemic racism. Kneeling for the anthem is one way they plan to do that.

“What the league did is not OK,” Gorden said. “You can’t use Black trauma for a pump-up video or to bring in views.”