Win and they’re in.
That’s the opportunity facing the Red Stars when they host Western New York in Saturday night’s regular season finale.
By beating the Flash (7-8-7, 27 points), which was eliminated from playoff contention Wednesday, the Red Stars (9-7-7, 34 points) will clinch their first playoff berth at the professional level.
Chicago got to that point by knocking off last place Boston 2-0 at Benedictine University in Lisle on Wednesday night. It was the second straight victory for the Red Stars, who currently sit in fourth place, one point behind Washington and one ahead of Portland, the teams they are battling for one of the two remaining playoff berths.
“It’s exciting and it’s nice that it’s in our hands and we can kind of control our fate,” Red Stars midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo said. “You never know what can happen, so we just have to get the job done and bring the Chicago Red Stars to the playoffs.”
Chicago’s two local players got the job done in fine fashion against the Breakers (5-16-2, 17 points). DiBernardo, a Waubonsie Valley graduate, and Geneva’s Jackie Santacaterina both started and had a hand in each goal.
DiBernardo triggered both tallies with corner kicks from the right side and four players touched the ball on each play.
The first featured three headers, with Santacaterina heading DiBernardo’s serve to defender Julie Johnston on the left post. Johnston nodded it across the goal mouth to Alyssa Mautz, who headed home a two-yarder for a 1-0 lead in the 30th minute.
“Whenever it gets into that deep spot our goal is to head it straight back across for the next [player] coming in,” Santacaterina said. “This field is a little bit more narrow so it happens a lot where those balls get to the back post.”
The Red Stars haven’t scored often on corner kicks but they got plenty of practice in this one, forcing seven corners and putting four shots on frame.
“We have a little bit of box organization on those so people cover spots,” Red Stars coach Rory Dames said. “They have set runs they’re supposed to go to and they did a very good job of keeping their discipline.”
Boston goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher kept the Breakers close by making seven saves, including a diving stop on a 37-yard drive by Lori Chalupny after a DiBernardo corner was initially cleared in the 50th minute
But the Red Stars broke through again in the 81st minute. DiBernardo’s corner was touched first by Santacaterina and then Abby Erceg, whose shot was parried by Naeher. Melissa Tancredi, however, scored on the rebound.
Karina LeBlanc made three saves to record her sixth shutout for Chicago, which outshot Boston 15-6 despite having nine players on the injury report. They included DiBernardo and Santacaterina, who has not been completely healthy all season.
“Vanessa gave a great shift tonight and Jackie gave a great shift,” Dames said. “We didn’t know what we’d get out of them. It’s a credit to the players for their ability to push through at this time of the year.
“Jackie was cramping up but got [forward] on both of the corners and that’s how she is. Jackie’s a winner.”
Despite the aches and pains, the Red Stars are loath to back down now that franchise history is within reach.
“I think it’s just mentality and your will at this point,” Santacaterina said. “Everybody’s kind of in the same boat and we had a good meeting the other day where the emphasis was we’ve gotten too far, we’ve been through too much to just throw in the towel now, so you just have to will yourself and the other people around you to push through.”