Canadian Bianca St. Georges and Rachel Hill scored early and the Chicago Red Stars held off determined Sky Blue 3-2 on Wednesday night to earn a spot in the Challenge Cup final.
The Red Stars, who played last year in the National Women’s Soccer League championship game but fell to the North Carolina club, will meet the Houston Dash on Sunday in the tournament’s title game.
The Dash, who had never made the playoffs in seven seasons in the league, defeated the Portland Thorns 1-0 in the earlier semi-final.
The sixth-seeded Red Stars, who had only scored two goals in the tournament before the semi-final, built a 3-0 lead in the game but No. 7 Sky Blue threatened with a pair of late goals.
“I think that was a big goal of ours heading into the game, we knew we hadn’t had the offensive production that we wanted the whole tournament, only scoring two goals up to this,” said Savannah McCaskill, who scored in the 60th minute. “So the past few days we’ve been working with each other to get each other’s movements down, and we just really wanted to come out and put some balls in the back of the net.”
The match had looked like it could be a battle of the goalkeepers after both teams went scoreless in the quarter-finals and advanced to the semis on penalty shootouts.
Sky Blue’s Canadian international goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan went into the game leading the field with 20 saves in the tournament. Chicago counterpart Alyssa Naeher had 18 saves, but rested for a game during the group stage.
St. Georges got past Sheridan early, finding her out of place with a shot to the far post in the eighth minute. It was the first professional goal for the native of St-Felix-de-Valois, Que. Some three minutes later Hill, who was traded to Chicago from the Orlando Pride in the off-season, scored.
McCaskill scored on the counter to pad the Red Stars’ lead. But Sky Blue closed the gap on Canadian rookie Evelyne Viens’ header in the 72nd minute, and some five minutes later an own goal off of Chicago’s Julie Ertz got the New Jersey team closer.
It was the first NWSL goal for Viens, a rookie from L’Ancienne-Lorette, Que.
“I mean, we made it a lot harder on ourselves than we needed to,” Chicago coach Rory Dames said. “And I’m sure we’ll pay the price for that part of the game on Sunday from the effort we had to put at the end. But that’s how you learn.”
Sky Blue’s McCall Zerboni said she was proud of how her team didn’t give up after falling behind three goals.
“I think we showed a lot of fight to come back. A lot of belief,” she said. “Hopefully we gave some people some entertainment – much to my disappointment – but hopefully people enjoyed the show.”
The Red Stars did not start Casey Short, who had one of the Chicago’s two goals heading into Wednesday night’s semi-final. The team announced shortly before kickoff that she had picked up an injury in training the day before.
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