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Sam Kerr scores another game-winner for Chicago Red Stars against Utah Royals FC

Chicago Red Stars forward Sam Kerr celebrates after scoring a goal against Utah Royals FC on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019, at SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview, Ill. (Credit: Chicago Red Stars/ISI Photos)

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — Sam Kerr left for the World Cup more than two months ago leading the National Women’s Soccer League scoring race. She hasn’t let up since her return.

Kerr added her 12th goal of the season in the fifth minute of the Chicago Red Stars’ 2-0 win Saturday against Utah Royals FC.

Casey Short made the play by getting by two defenders on the right wing to set up a left-footed cross just outside the box. Kerr got her head on it, but was initially denied by Utah goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart. Kerr finished off the rebound for the goal in front of an announced crowd of 4,335.

When she left for France, Kerr had six goals in six NWSL games. She then missed three games. She now has six goals in six games since rejoining the team. The 12 total goals puts Kerr four goals clear of second place in the scoring race, which is held by North Carolina’s Kristen Hamilton.

Kerr even had a hat trick in her first game back, a win in Orlando. That game took place eight days after Norway knocked Australia out of the World Cup in penalties.

“I thought after how the game went in getting knocked out by penalties that I wanted to stay away from football for a little bit,” Kerr said. “After a few days, I was like ‘Oh no, I need to start playing again.’ I’m glad I did. I felt like I owed it to the team to come back and we got that win.

“But I love being here. I love playing and it kind of takes your mind off everything that goes on around you. I feel really comfortable here. The girls make me feel really comfortable. For me, this is my home so that’s the only reason I came home is to be home and be in my own apartment and be back with these girls that I love.”

Kerr had multiple quality chances in the second half Saturday, but couldn’t beat Barnhart, who finished with six saves.

One sequence in the 64th minute featured Kerr burning a defender in her own half and then receiving a through ball from Vanessa DiBernardo to set her up in front of goal, only to be denied by a highlight-reel save from Barnhart.

“If that was another game and we had a loss, I’d have been going home feeling pretty bad,” Kerr said. “But the fact that we won, she’s an unbelievable keeper and credit to her. She had an unbelievable game. It could have been four, five-nil if she didn’t stand up big to it.”

A pair of Red Stars substitutes played a role in the clinching goal. Savannah McCaskill was in on goal and fired a shot at Barnhart, who again came up with a big save. However, Brooke Elby was there to finish it off.

“I thought she made some excellent saves in the second half off their breakaways,” Utah coach Laura Harvey said of Barnhart. “We left ourselves a bit too exposed at times, but she came up big with some fantastic saves.”

Both teams were short-handed with the United States women’s national team playing the opening match of its World Cup victory tour at the Rose Bowl later Saturday. The Red Stars were without Julie Ertz, Morgan Brian, Alyssa Naeher and Tierna Davidson. Utah was missing Christen Press and Kelley O’Hara.

Red Stars coach Rory Dames said he challenged his group to win without the U.S. players. They struggled this season during the World Cup, but the Red Stars are now on a four-game winning streak. Two of those wins came without the World Cup winners.

Chicago (8-5-2, 26 points) is third in the league, tied in points with No. 2 Portland and two points behind the North Carolina Courage. Utah (5-6-3, 18 points) is seventh and remains five points outside the top four spots.

“This team is so special this year,” Red Stars midfielder Danielle Colaprico said. “I think this is our year. I feel like everyone kind of feels that and I didn’t really notice that until I was sitting on the bench and just able to watch from above and just see how well we can play when we’re on. We’re getting better and better every game and it’s great to see.”

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