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Mallory Pugh, Red Stars clinch playoff berth with season-ending win

Chicago Red Stars forward Mallory Pugh started the year off with eight goals in six games for the USWNT. (Daniel Bartel/USA TODAY Sports)

The Chicago Red Stars are heading to the NWSL playoffs for the seventh year in a row after clinching a spot in the postseason with Sunday’s 2-0 win over Angel City FC.

Chicago’s shutout put the club one point clear of the North Carolina Courage in the NWSL standings, with the Red Stars locking up the sixth and final playoff berth.

Mallory Pugh led the charge for Chicago, notching the team’s breakthrough goal in the waning minutes of the first half. Making a well-timed run on the outside of her defender, Pugh got on the end of a dangerous ball from Sarah Luebbert to put her side up 1-0 heading into the break.

“Everyone’s going to have to raise the intensity in some way or another,” Red Stars goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher said of the club’s must-win matchup. “Even Mal (Pugh) tonight, she’s got all the expectations in the world — Mal’s gotta score a goal, Mal’s gotta score a goal, Mal’s gotta score a goal — Mal scored a goal tonight. Sarah (Luebbert) made a great play, I don’t know how she got through all those people and then slips it into Mal and Mal finishes.”

Pugh finishes the 2022 regular season with 11 goals and six assists in 16 appearances for a prolific NWSL campaign.

Yuki Nagasato provided an insurance goal for the Red Stars, striking a rocket from the top of the box to put Chicago up 2-0 with just over ten minutes left in the match.

“There’s a number of us that have been here for a lot of years now,” Naeher said following the win. “And I think that camaraderie, I guess, or that sense of team that we’ve been able to create over the years with each other, it kind of makes you want it a little bit more. Because you don’t just want it for yourself, you want it for the person next to you too.”

The Chicago Red Stars will travel to San Diego on Oct. 16 to take on the Wave in the opening round of the NWSL playoffs, with the matchup set to air on CBS Sports Network at 10 p.m. ET.