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Looks to earn second straight win, avenge opening-day defeat

By Gunnar Berndt

Chicago, Ill. – Following a month on the road, the Chicago Red Stars return home this coming Saturday for a meeting with visiting Houston Dash. While the two sides are separated by no fewer than five spots in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) standings, both have taken similar paths in recent weeks, a fact that was not overlooked by Chicago Head Coach Rory Dames in his overall optimistic preview of the clash at Toyota Park in Bridgeview.

The Red Stars take on the Dash on July 23 at 7 p.m. CT, with the action being broadcast live online here.

Dames opened his remarks by rejecting the notion that his players’ confidence might have taken a hit during a series of three straight 2-0 defeats that began at Portland Thorns FC on June 22 and ended with last Saturday’s 1-0 victory over hosts Orlando Pride.

Said the man in charge of Chicago, “We didn’t do anything different ahead of the Orlando game than we had done in previous weeks, and I don’t think the group was concerned at all about slipping into a losing mindset. When we were losing, it’s not like we were getting killed by the other teams, so we felt we were being competitive but simply had to clean up some areas and put a bit more attention into specific things. Our general approach to training, our intensity and the players’ commitment never changed.”

After falling to Portland, the Red Stars suffered losses against Western New York and Washington Spirit. The club finally snapped its losing streak at Orlando’s Camping World Stadium, thanks to Taylor Comeau’s first ever pro goal on a beautiful cross by Sofia Huerta, as well as goalkeeper Michele Dalton’s first clean sheet of the 2016 campaign.

“We created significantly more quality chances than we allowed, which hadn’t been the case in two weeks,” assessed Head Coach Dames. “And for the first time in three weeks, we took a chance when we got one at a crucial point in the game. I’d say that those were the biggest differences between the games we lost and the win against the Pride. We’ve had much easier chances to score at crucial moments in other games and missed them, so credit to Taylor for putting hers away.”

He continued, “Taking the lead helped us. Players will always respond with a little more confidence and belief when they’re up a goal. Overall, I think the movement of our attacking players was better and the backs were a little more disciplined about their responsibilities. It was a performance we can build on.”

At Orlando, goal-scorer Comeau recorded her second consecutive 90 minutes for Chicago, bringing her within eleven minutes of the 377 she recorded as a rookie with Portland last year, despite only being about two thirds into the season this time around. While her initial shot at proving herself in the first eleven no doubt had to do with the absence of the Red Stars’ Olympics-bound trio of U.S. regulars, the California native did well enough in the July 9 loss to Washington to warrant another start last weekend.

“Taylor scores off the charts when it comes to her fitness,” said Chicago Head Coach Dames, “and in addition she’s a very technical and intelligent player. The fact she’s only 22 means she’s still developing and getting better. It’s easy to forget just how young our team is, and when you take the internationals out of the equation, we get even younger. Because of that, it’s all the more important for Taylor, who is the youngest of them all, to show the kind of maturity she has shown.

“Against Orlando she did extremely well defensively, covered a ton of ground in the midfield and won a lot of balls in the air. She’s spent some time adjusting and learning, but I believe she has tremendous potential to earn opportunities in the starting lineup and become a very good professional in this league.”

Given Comeau’s performance in the crucial win over the Pride, she may again find herself on the field for the upcoming meeting with Houston. Like fourth-place Chicago, the ninth-place Dash recently snapped a frustrating losing streak while simultaneously ending a severe scoring drought, having dropped a stunning total of six consecutive 1-0 decisions before finally earning a resounding 3-0 home win over Portland last Saturday. Head Coach Randy Waldrum’s side did earn a convincing 3-1 home win against the Red Stars in the two clubs’ season opener back in mid-April.

Waldrum’s roster has been decimated by Olympics call-ups, with Americans Carli Lloyd and Morgan Brian, Australia shot-stopper Lydia Williams, Canada’s Allysha Chapman, and Brazil’s Poliana and Andressa all about to represent their respective countries in Rio de Janeiro.

Given the absences, a lot of the defensive responsibilities will rest on the shoulders of veteran Rebecca Moros and former Matildas member Ellie Brush, with English striker Rachel Daly (2 goals, 3 assists) and midfielder Kealia Ohai (1 goal, 2 assists) looking to provide the crucial attacking spark. The Houston first eleven may also feature Ireland international Denise O’Sullivan and forward Chioma Ubogagu (1 goal, 1 assist), both of whom started in the victory over Thorns FC.

Meanwhile, the Chicago roster only misses three big names, those of Stars and Stripes aces Alyssa Naeher, Julie Johnston and Christen Press. While the club’s defense can be expected to again feature Casey Short (tied for 3rd on team with 2 goals), Arin Gilliland and Samantha Johnson, midfielders Vanessa DiBernardo (3 assists) and Danielle Colaprico (2 assists) look to set up forwards Sofia Huerta (3 goals, 1 assist) and Jen Hoy (2 goals). Given the recent success of Comeau, it remains to be seen whether attacker Alyssa Mautz (2 assists) will be in the starting lineup or provide a spark off the bench.

After warning against underestimating the Dash, Red Stars Head Coach Dames concluded his look ahead to the weekend’s fixture on a cautiously optimistic note.

“The fact their attack struggled and then had an outburst a week ago means we have to be careful,” he offered. “Their front line is dynamic and mobile and likes to run at opponents with a lot of pace, so we definitely need to be prepared for that. More than anything, I think our players are excited to return home and play in front of the home fans at Toyota Park. In our season opener against Houston, we were still working on figuring things out and weren’t anywhere near where we are now. Hopefully that means we’ll give a much better account of ourselves than we did back then.”

The highly anticipated Pride Night meeting between Dames’ Chicago Red Stars and visiting Houston Dash takes place this coming Saturday, July 23. Tickets for the 2016 NWSL campaign at Toyota Park in Bridgeview may be purchased by clicking here or by calling 773-697-8699.

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