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Press bags dramatic equalizer while LeBlanc has standout game in goal

By Gunnar Berndt

Bridgeview, Ill. – The playoff-bound Chicago Red Stars concluded their 2015 National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) regular season with a 1-1 draw against visiting Houston Dash at Toyota Park on Sunday evening. In a tightly contested affair, Chicago goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc put in a world-class performance two days after announcing her retirement from pro soccer at the end of the campaign, and red-hot teammate Christen Press bagged a dramatic late equalizer for her tenth goal in just twelve NWSL games. Former Red Star Ella Masar had given Houston the lead with an excellent second-half strike.

The hosts nearly found themselves trailing in the fifth minute of play, as LeBlanc showed outstanding alertness in rushing off her line to deny U.S. attacking ace Carli Lloyd on an underhit back pass by Danielle Colaprico. Chicago captain Lori Chalupny went close at the other end four minutes later, her long-range blast whistling inches wide of the upper ninety. Houston’s Andressa then had a close look of her own, but the twelfth-minute drive from the edge of the box sailed narrowly high.

With the half-hour mark approaching, the second Canadian goalkeeper on the field, Erin McLeod, demonstrated why she started for the Canucks in the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Red Stars striker Press sent Chalupny in on goal and the Missouri native did well to muscle off a defender and get a shot off that was kept out by former Chicago standout McLeod’s point-blank save. Moments later, it would be LeBlanc’s turn again, as she produced a strong diving save on a low drive by Houston’s Masar, who had created space for herself on the left side of the area courtesy of some impressive foot skills.

The Dash had another quality chance moments from the halftime whistle, Andressa swinging in a corner kick from the left that found Morgan Brian near the far post. The American international’s header from close range forced LeBlanc into action once more and the 35-year-old did well to keep the game scoreless.

Chicago had the best opportunity of the game thus far seven minutes into the second period. Vanessa DiBernardo very nearly pounced on a missed clearance by Meghan Klingenberg, as she found herself with the ball at her feet and with only the ‘keeper to beat, only to fire inches wide of the right post. The Red Stars were fortunate to escape punishment for the missed opportunity when substitute Tiffany McCarty’s cross from the right picked out the wide open Jessica McDonald, who did well to control in the center of the box but saw her attempted finish denied by the onrushing LeBlanc.

However, the Red Stars netminder had no chance whatsoever on Masar’s beautiful go-ahead goal just after the hour mark, as the attacker received the ball from Brian, took it to the edge of the box and blasted a left-footed rocket to the left of the outstretched LeBlanc and into the upper ninety. Rookie sensation Danielle Colaprico subsequently saved the day for the home side, as she prevented a two-goal deficit by heroically sliding to block what seemed like a simple finish into the open net after McDonald had rounded LeBlanc inside the penalty area.

Dash and U.S. defender Klingenberg tried her luck from long range in the 75th minute, the powerful effort whistling narrowly over the crossbar. That set the stage for Press’ dramatic tally just before the end of regulation time. The agile Arin Gilliland blocked an attempted clearance straight into the path of Johnston on the right side of the box and the center back headed to her fellow Stars and Stripes standout in the center, Press proving her class once more by sending the ball inside the left upright for her tenth of the campaign.

After the equalizer, the fans at Toyota Park in Bridgeview witnessed perhaps the most entertaining stretch of the match, as Chicago pushed hard for a win and Houston found plenty of space on counter attacks. LeBlanc had to come up huge one last time before the final whistle blew, as a pair of Lloyd cutbacks inside the box enabled the U.S. superstar to fire on target from close range, only for her attempt to be deflected out of danger by the Red Stars netminder.

The Chicago Red Stars look to make more history when they host Lauren Holiday and defending NWSL champions FC Kansas City in their NWSL playoff semifinal on September 13. Tickets to all Red Stars matches may be purchased by calling 773-698-6001 or by clicking here.

Chicago Red Stars vs. Houston Dash 1-1
Venue: Toyota Park, Birdgeview, IL
Scheduled kickoff time: 4 p.m. CT

Red Stars starting lineup:
LeBlanc, Gilliland, Erceg, Johnston, Lomnicki, Colaprico, DiBernardo, Chalupny, Leon, Hoy, Press

Dash starting lineup:
McLeod, Pressley, Chapman, Brush, Klingenberg, Andressa, Brian, Lloyd, McDonald, Henderson, Masar

Goals:
Masar 62’ HOU (Brian)
Press 90’ CRS (Johnston)

Cautions/Ejections:
DiBernardo 82’ CRS (reckless foul)

Red Stars substitutions:
Johnson in for Lomnicki 46’
Tancredi in for Leon 69’
Quon in for Hoy 78’

Dash substitutions:
McCarty in for Henderson 33’
Axon in for McDonald 76’
Camila in for Masar 85’

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