BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — The Chicago Red Stars had a Sam Kerr-sized hole in the attack, resulting in a shutout loss.
The Red Stars held the shot advantage, but couldn’t convert in a 2-0 loss to the visiting Washington Spirit on Sunday. The Red Stars outshot the Spirit 19-10 (9-4 in shots on target).
With Vanessa DiBernardo pulling the strings in midfield, the Red Stars attack created a decent amount of chances. However, the finishing touch wasn’t there without the lethal Kerr, who leads the league with six goals and left to join Australia ahead of the World Cup. Katie Johnson got the start up top with Yuki Nagasato and Michele Vasconcelos also featuring in the attack.
“I think for Katie it’s a tough spot to step into because of who you’re stepping in there for,” Red Stars coach Rory Dames said. “I think the biggest thing Katie will take out of the game tonight is that Katie Johnson just needs to go out and be Katie Johnson because being Katie Johnson is good enough.
“I didn’t think she did poor, but I think she has more than she showed. I think she’s always going to be unfairly critiqued against the other player that plays as a nine for us.”
Johnson wasn’t new to the Red Stars lineup. She played in four of the first five matches when Kerr was with the team and started in three of those. Still, she admitted she was feeling the pressure of replacing the two-time NWSL Golden Boot winner.
“I think this game I was overthinking it a little bit,” Johnson said. “If I just go back to playing like myself and being confident in that. I think I can do better in that aspect and know that I’m good and not just the replacement of Sam. I’m trying to get that out of my head now because I felt that pressure today.”
Another absence in the Red Stars lineup was central midfielder Danielle Colaprico, who was out with a knee injury. Dames said he expects Colaprico to return next week at Portland.
Even with key absences, Dames said he wanted to keep as much of the lineup consistent as possible. Brooke Elby took Colaprico’s spot in midfield while Johnson took Kerr’s place. Everything else remained the same from previous games, but that may not remain the case going forward.
“We just tried to as little as possible to disrupt what we’ve been doing,” Dames said. “I would say there’s a bigger argument to tinkering than there was coming into today.”
The Spirit took the lead with an early goal off a corner kick. Samantha Staab headed Jordan DiBiasi’s delivery on target. Initially, it got blocked off the line by Nagasato, but the ball still inched over the line following a collision with goalkeeper Emily Boyd. Nagasato was credited with the own goal in the ninth minute.
In the 63rd minute, the Spirit doubled the lead. Ashley Hatch redirected a cross from Arielle Ship with a first-touch finish to score.
With the win, the Spirit (4-1-1, 13 points) leapfrogged the Red Stars and moved into a tie with the Utah Royals at the top of the table. Washington now has more points and twice as many wins as the team had in all of 2018.
“Nothing is won in the sixth game of the season so we’re going to keep moving on,” coach Richie Burke said. “We need to use every single match to improve on areas where we fall down, where we need to get better. We’re by no means a finished product.”
The Red Stars (3-2-2, 11 points) lost for the first time at home.
“It was a tough loss,” Red Stars defender Sarah Gorden said. “Obviously our first game without all of our national team players so you’re just trying to figure out who wants what up top, especially without Sam. Every forward wants the ball in different spaces and makes different runs.”