BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — For the past several weeks the NWSL playoff race has been incredibly tight, but with one week remaining, all four spots have now been clinched.
The Chicago Red Stars booked their place in the league’s final four with a 5-0 win against Sky Blue FC on Tuesday.
Alyssa Mautz scored the first two goals, both on assists from Arin Gilliland. Mautz opened the scoring with a header that looped over Sky Blue goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan in the 18th minute. In the first minute of the second half, Gilliland and Mautz combined again. This time, Mautz slid in for the finish after a Gilliland cross.
“Me and Mautz have been hounded the past week about our crossing and them being very poor. So let me tell you, we had many, many reps at practice doing that,” Gilliland said. “Being on the end of each other’s crosses, serving as well. I think that finally just paid off.”
Sam Kerr, Rosie White and Michele Vasconcelos added insurance goals later in the second half. Sky Blue remains winless on the season at 0-17-6 with one match remaining.
The win sends the Red Stars to a fourth straight playoff appearance. They become the first team in league history to pull off that feat.
Red Stars coach Rory Dames got a postgame bucket shower for winning his 50th match in charge. He was adamant that the team isn’t celebrating another playoff spot.
“If I got doused with water because we qualified for the semifinals we would have to have a practice without balls,” Dames said. “It’s a hard league to get into the four, so we’re happy to do that. We’re by no means excited.”
On the flip side, the Red Stars have yet to win any of those three playoff games.
“It will feel good when we finally make it to the championship and win a semi,” Gilliland said.
As things stand, the Red Stars will head to the league-leading North Carolina Courage. Chicago can still move up to third. A win at the Utah Royals on Saturday, coupled with a Portland loss to Seattle the day before would move the Red Stars past the Thorns and send them to Seattle.
With Portland and Seattle playing before the Red Stars, Dames said they could rest some players if they aren’t playing for anything.
“It takes the pressure off the last game, which is nice,” Kerr said. “We can go in there with just an open mind and play our style of play.”