CHICAGO -- The Chicago Red Stars hosted Bay FC at MLB's historic Wrigley Field on Saturday night in front of a record-setting crowd of 35,038. The Northern California side left with the victory and all three points after a 2-1 win under the bright lights of the iconic friendly confines, but Chicago and the Bay each left that night as record-breakers. Each team achieved a bit of individual history as well alongside a successful NWSL event.

Bay FC midfielder Kiki Pickett opened the scoring with her first-ever NWSL goal, and Joelle Anderson netted the game-winner for the expansion side. Chicago Red Stars forward Penelope Hocking delivered the consolation goal for Chicago, a strike that was received with excitement from the hometown crowd and met with fireworks and roars. 

A night of history

The league is no stranger to playing in baseball venues, but previous attempts were in semi-pro or minor league facilities. A forgettable night in 2016 between Seattle Reign FC and now folded club Western New York Flash left bad memories and a "never again" mentality after a subpar pitch, Frontier Field, and injury to then Reign goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer left the league with black-eye of negative headlines.

Just look at the field!

After the Wrigley game, both head coaches and players were complimentary of the baseball-to-soccer pitch conversions. Despite some narrow dimensions, groundskeepers listened to player feedback to ensure a quality field. Bay FC defender Kayla Sharples noted the player's collective bargaining agreement about no baseball fields, and the efforts taken with player reps for a special, one-night-only, event.

Now, the league officially has a new attendance record after setting a single-game record just last season. Seattle Reign FC celebrated Megan Rapinoe's final home game and 34,130 fans showed up to say farewell at Lumen Field. The Reign have called the NFL stadium home for two seasons now. In Chicago, over 35,000 people showed up to support women's sports on Saturday night in Wrigley Field, in an evening that held plenty of individual history and significance as well.

Chicago Red Stars forward Mallory Swanson is married to Chicago Cubs shortstop Dansby Swanson, and they're now the first pro couple in Chicago to ever play on the same field with their respective teams. Her Red Stars teammate, Hocking, has the honor of scoring a goal in the same stadium her father Denny Hocking played in as a former pro with the Minnesota Twins.

The former Twins player hit a home run at Wrigley 25 years ago, while his daughter provided a celebratory moment for Red Stars fans on Saturday night.

"I mean, it's just electric. To score a goal for the home crowd, and do what I did tonight, and have my dad also play in the same field it's really, really special for him," Hocking said after the game.

"I could just see it in his eyes when I saw him after the game. Seeing my family after the game, saying how proud they were. Like playing on this big stage, it was just super emotional and it was just really cool. It just meant the world to me."

Since the Red Stars' initial announcement of the scheduled Wrigley game, the club and its players have been non-stop in promoting the marquee event. Sometimes a big moment can feel overwhelming at times but Hocking mentioned her dad helped her try to manage the emotions of playing in a historic venue.

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"My dad, he's so supportive, and when I told him ... that we're gonna play at Wrigley, he was like the first person I told. Even before the game [Saturday], he just sent me this long text and I could just tell that he was so happy and really proud," said Hocking.

"He's just like, go out, have fun. And you know, because he played the pro level, I bet he has some things that, like, he regrets and wishes that he could have taken back, and he just relays the message of 'Just have fun, enjoy it, like you're only going do it for so long.' So, I think that was the message, today, just have fun enjoy it. It's a great opportunity."

Sharples is a Naperville native and grew up going to Cubs and Red Stars games and went to Northwestern. She was drafted by the Red Stars in 2019 and is now with the expansion side building a new team culture. She's not unfamiliar with the Red Stars attendance plight and had several friends and family members in attendance, nearing almost a support system of 70 people.

"To get the win, in front of a hometown crowd. A historic night. I mean, it was hard not to witness and like look up and take in their crowd," Sharples said during postgame. 

"Because you want to focus on the game, but at moments, you know, we did. We looked up. And wow, like, got the chills. It's so cool. I saw the the board when it said 35,000, it's a record-breaking attendance for the NWSL, so that's just so unbelievable. To be a part of some history, and to get that win, is just something that I never thought would happen. So I'm just really happy and so blessed to do it with my teammates."

A metric for Chicago and NWSL

The Chicago Red Stars are one of the longest-running NWSL teams. First founded in 2007 as part of WPS, the NWSL's predecessor, the franchise has always struggled to get a foothold in sports-saturated Chicago. The club used to play their games at Benedictine University till 2016 when they moved out to SeatGeek Stadium in nearby Bridgeview.

The attendance has been historically low for the franchise, and last season, they were the only club to see a dip in attendance. After a decade of mismanagement and cutting corners from previous ownership under the ruse of "championing" women's sports, the franchise is under new ownership. A new group of investors led by Cubs Co-owner Laura Ricketts has, already in year one, achieved an attendance record with the club.

Ahead of the big game, club president Karen Leetzow sat down with CBS Sports and discussed the Red Stars' ongoing efforts. Providing a large crowd for players, access, and visibility for the team within the city of Chicago, were just some goals for the Red Stars on Saturday. The marquee event isn't the first time NWSL teams have attempted to think out of the box for attendance metrics. 

In 2022, Orlando Pride and Racing Louisville FC played on a pitch at Daytona International Speedway with just over 5,000 people in attendance. The event efforts didn't set an attendance record but did spark plenty of what-ifs for NWSL games taken outside of soccer stadiums. Some clubs have even partnered with their local MLS clubs for double-header events.

The Wrigley match served as a metric for the Red Stars in Chicago, and the successful event has now opened the doors for future potential unique one-off events in the league.