BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — Christine Sinclair scored a hat trick, which included a penalty kick three minutes before full time, but Yuki Nagasato leveled in the 90th minute for the Chicago Red Stars in a wild 4-4 draw with the Portland Thorns at SeatGeek Stadium Saturday afternoon.
It’s not the win the Red Stars (0-0-2, 2 points) hoped for in their 2019 National Women’s Soccer League home opener, but it was a better result than the 3-2 loss against Portland (1-0-1, 4 points) they opened with last season.
“That [penalty kick] last year would have ended us,” Red Stars head coach Rory Dames said. “I don’t know if we would have had the perseverance, which we lacked a little bit last year, to not only to get the fourth goal, but to create two more chances to [almost] get the fifth is credit to our team.”
While Dames liked the late fight, conceding four goals didn’t sit well with the coach or Red Stars goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher. It was the first time Chicago allowed more than three goals in a game since July 4 against North Carolina.
“It starts with me. If we score four goals, we should never lose a game, or tie,” Naeher said. “We always know it’s going to be a battle with Portland. They’re one of the more challenging teams in the league and [Sinclair] is one of the best scorers in the world, but we can’t allow that to happen going forward.”
Sinclair, a Canadian international, opened the scoring for Portland in the 16th minute, but Nagasato struck two minutes later and Sam Kerr scored two minutes after that to give Chicago a 2-1 lead in front of the announced crowd of 12,967. Nagasato said her penalty in the 18th minute gave her confidence to fight against the Portland attack the remainder of the game.
“I wasn’t supposed to take the kick. [Rory] said that Julie should take it, but Julie told me to take the penalty kick,” Nagasato said. “I had missed last season, and so I wasn’t confident after that. . . . I heard someone behind me tell the goalkeeper to dive to her left and so I went the other way.”
The Timbers’ Meghan Klingenberg then assisted on a goal by Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic and a second goal by Sinclair to put the visitors in front 3-2 in the 51st minute. Michele Vasconcelos leveled for the Red Stars in the 77th minute, assisted by Julie Ertz.
“We have to allow as little chances as possible inside the [18-yard box] because they will put away their chances,” Ertz said. “However, we’re not scared of any team. We know what our identity is, it’s a resilient team, and we’re playing some pretty good soccer right now. It just comes down to our communication defensively. We’re excited where we’re at and where we can be.”
Kerr, Ertz and Dames said they expect improvement as the season goes along. The Red Stars next face the Tacoma Reign April 27 at SeatGeek Stadium.
“For whatever reason, we haven’t been able to get over the hump against Portland. We had them last year and I thought we were the better team, but we lost 3-2,” Dames said. “Personally, I don’t think we were the better team today, but we grinned out a draw. We have to figure out what the mental issue that we have is with them, because we’re probably going to have to get through this team when it matters.”