Chicago Red Stars v Orlando Pride, Sunday 12th June 2022, 5pm

The second sporting event of our Chicago stay was a visit to the Seat Geek Stadium for a Women’s Major League Soccer fixture between Chicago Red Stars and Orlando Pride. Women’s Soccer is supposed to be pretty popular in the US and so I ordered the tickets and parking in advance. It was thirty dollars a pop for our seats in the East Stand and another twenty for parking. With taxes and fees it came to just over ninety bucks, as they say over here.

We needn’t have bothered with the parking as there were plenty of free spaces at the south end of the ground. We paid over the odds for the tickets too as it was effectively free-seating inside. Had we bought nine dollar tickets for behind the goal we’d have had exactly the same choice of sitting anywhere we wanted. I suppose that’s the sort of thing that you learn from experience, but when you have no plans to return to a ground it’s knowledge that won’t necessarily benefit you in future.

With the sun shining directly on to our allocated East Stand seats, we walked around to the West Stand and took up a position on the half-way line in the shade. Surprisingly, this was the least popular area, with most of the three-thousand plus crowd choosing to sit opposite us or behind the goal to our left, both areas directly in the sun.

There were a few food choices, but nothing that really appealed, and we ended up with chicken tenders and fries.

One of the best female players ever, the Brazilian Marta, plays for Orlando. She wasn’t listed in the line-up though and I later discovered that she is out for the season with a torn ACL.

I also found out afterwards that the Orlando coach was former Boro player, Seb Hines. He’d moved out here after we released him in 2015 and played for the Orlando men’s team for a couple of years before retiring. He’d been appointed interim head coach a few days earlier after the suspension of the incumbent. It’s good to see that he is building a career in that side of the game.

All bar one of the Orlando team took the knee during the national anthem. It’s a gesture that requires a certain amount of bravery in the US where showing maximum respect to the flag and anthem is expected, whereas in England taking the knee is generally seen as the right thing to do outside of a small number of Johnson’s acolytes. It was a gesture that had me rooting for the visitors.

I was a little disappointed in the standard of play as I’d thought that WMLS was the pinnacle of the women’s game. It certainly wasn’t at the, albeit international, level of the England v Canada that I’d seen at the Riverside earlier in the season but I also thought that the domestic games that I’d watched in Russia last year were of an overall better standard.

There was a significant gap in the skill levels between teammates and whilst you get this in every team, I wondered whether there was a team salary cap in place that might explain why some players spent the whole game looking as if they were using their weaker foot.

One player who really stood out for the right reasons was Mallory Pugh, a striker for Chicago and who looked comfortable with either foot in any situation. If they had used half of any team salary available just for her it would have been worth it.

Pugh proved to be the difference between the teams when she ran at the Pride defence early on and curled a shot from the edge of the box in off the underside of the bar. The one-nil win lifted the Red Stars to second in the league and left Pride second from the bottom. Hopefully Seb Hines gets some easier opponents in the remainder of his caretaker appointment.

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