Fire drop points in 0-0 tie with Atlanta United; Red Stars lose 1-0 in Alyssa Mautz’s farewell
The Fire were unable to win four straight games for the first time since 2017. The Red Stars ran their winless streak to three.
The Fire are trying to rally for their first playoff appearance in five years.
They didn’t look up to it in Saturday’s 0-0 tie with Atlanta United.
Attempting to win four straight games for the first time since 2017, the Fire didn’t generate much traction against an underwhelming Atlanta team that entered the day 12th in the Eastern Conference. The dropped points could be damaging for the Fire, who are one of a handful of teams trying to sneak into the East’s postseason bracket and need to overcome their earlier 10-game winless streak to make that happen.
Coach Ezra Hendrickson still saw positives.
“The big thing for me from this game is, a month, two months ago, we lose that game tonight,” Hendrickson said. “We find some way to lose that game and that didn’t happen tonight.”
But a win didn’t happen, either, and the Fire stayed two points out of a playoff spot.
Saturday figured to be a good chance for the Fire (7-10-6, 27 points) to pick up a victory before a defining August awaits. The next month sees them play a demanding schedule against East competitors including heavyweights Philadelphia (Aug. 13) and reigning league champion New York City FC (Aug. 21), not to mention a date with New England (Aug. 31), which set the league record for points last year but has struggled this season.
The Fire, though, weren’t potent Saturday and ended an otherwise positive 10-point July on a down note.
“We’ll reflect on it and try to be better but obviously, the positive is that we didn’t drop points,” winger Chris Mueller said. “We continue the [four-game] unbeaten streak and we’ll just reflect, get better and move on to the next match.”
The Fire thought they grabbed a 1-0 lead in the 54th minute when a Miguel Navarro cross fell right to Xherdan Shaqiri, who slammed the ball into the right corner. But after review, Shaqiri was deemed offside before Navarro played the ball in.
Playing on a patchy grass surface that was re-sodded after The Weeknd’s concert certainly didn’t help either team’s attack.
“We’re a team that likes to play and it was kind of sticky so, it was hard to play,” Hendrickson said. “We’re never gonna make excuses for mistakes on passing and stuff like that. But I felt like in the first half especially, we would press, would win it back and then we would not connect that pass and I think that maybe had something to do with it. But at the end of the day, they had to play on the same turf.”
To make matters worse, the Fire might be down another defender for a while.
Already without center back Wyatt Omsberg (left foot surgery) for perhaps the rest of the season, the Fire lost Carlos Teran in the 76th minute to a hamstring problem. Like Omsberg, Teran had shown improvement next to captain Rafael Czichos, but any lengthy Teran absence would further tax the Fire’s defensive depth. Options to replace Teran could include Mauricio Pineda, first-round pick Kendall Burks or maybe a new signing before the transfer window closes Thursday.
Hendrickson didn’t think the grass was a factor in Teran’s injury, saying that he tweaked something after going on a long run.
“So hopefully it’s not anything too difficult,” Hendrickson said. “We have a very good high-performance staff and very good trainers and stuff. So hopefully he’ll be ready for next weekend. But we’ll see what happens with that.”
With or without Teran, the Fire know what they have to do.
“There are 11 games left,” winger Jairo Torres said through a translator, “and we have to get as many points as possible to get to the playoffs.”
Red Stars lose to San Diego in Mautz’s farewell match
Even if the Red Stars hadn’t lost 1-0 to the San Diego Wave, Saturday would’ve been a bittersweet night for the franchise.
On Friday, the team announced that stalwart midfielder Alyssa Mautz would retire following the match at Soldier Field. Mautz, who joined the team in 2012 when it was part of the Women’s Premier Soccer League Elite, wrapped her playing career with 154 appearances across all competitions.
Reportedly, Mautz now moves onto an assistant coaching role with Texas A&M. She said the opportunity came pretty fast and that she wasn’t searching for another job, but for Mautz it was the “right time” to start thinking about life after playing.
“I never thought I would retire in the middle of the season,” Mautz said. “It kills me a little bit, but nothing’s ever perfect. I feel like I made the right decision but hate to leave my teammates, but I know they’ll keep working hard and keep fighting and showing that grit out there. I’m pretty excited.”
Mautz’s impact on the Red Stars went beyond playing. Sitting next to Mautz during the postgame news conference, midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo fought back tears when discussing her now-former teammate.
“Mautz is the definition of a Red Star,” DiBernardo said. “She’s… gone through so much yet she still has the back of everyone else. She’s come back from two ACLs, her mom passed away and she still comes here and shows up for other people. She’s just a great person outside of soccer, so everything that she brings on the field, it’s that hard work, that dedication, that grittiness to win every ball that is contagious and infectious and that energy she brings is something that we’ll truly miss her.
“It’s hard shoes for anyone to fill. She has been the legacy of what a Red Star is, and I’m so excited for her and her next opportunity, but she’s going to be truly, truly missed here.”
Because of the suddenness of the news and that the Red Stars weren’t playing at their customary home stadium, the team wasn’t able to fete Mautz as much as coach Chris Petrucelli would’ve liked.
“Maybe we didn’t quite have enough ceremony for her, but she doesn’t like to be in the spotlight. She doesn’t like the attention,” Petrucelli said. “She just wants to go out and do her job and that’s why she’s been so good.”
Petrucelli liked much of what the Red Stars did on the field in Mautz’s farewell, even if the result didn’t reflect that.
San Diego took a 1-0 lead on Jaedyn Shaw’s 27th-minute goal but handed the Red Stars a chance when Abby Dahlkemper was sent off after her second yellow card in the 59th. Red Stars standout Mallory Pugh, back from national-team duty, had a chance to even the game in the 82nd minute but her penalty was stopped by Wave goalie Kailen Sheridan.
That was the last clear chance for the Red Stars, who are winless in three and haven’t earned a victory since July 2.