Takes on New-Jersey-based club at Benedictine University in Lisle on Wednesday
By Gunnar Berndt
Chicago, Ill. – After suffering an unfortunate 2-1 away defeat to Portland Thorns FC, the Chicago Red Stars look to get back on track this coming Wednesday in a home match against Sky Blue FC. Head Coach Rory Dames and midfielder-forward Alyssa Mautz recently offered their analyses of the clash with Portland and previewed the midweek meeting with an opponent the Red Stars have already beaten twice this season but who is likely to provide a much greater challenge this time around.
The August 12 fixture between hosts Chicago and Sky Blue FC is scheduled to kick off at 1 p.m. CT, with a livestream available here. Radio broadcasts will be provided in English here and in Spanish here.
The Red Stars put on a strong performance against hosts Thorns FC on Sunday night, taking the lead and creating a number of quality opportunities, only to see the hosts turn the match around courtesy of a brace by Allie Long. The two sides traded freak tallies in the opening half, as Chicago’s Mautz found the net with a cross turned shot and Long equalized on a simple tap-in made possible by Chicago goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc’s takedown of teammate Abby Erceg.
“As a team, I felt that we did well in executing our game plan,” said goal-scorer Mautz of the match played in front of 15,858 at Portland’s Providence Park. “We were never under a lot of pressure until we gave up the goal, which was extremely unfortunate. It was one of those games where you feel like you’re definitely in it and not much is happening, which is a good thing when you’re on the road and up against that kind of crowd. We even created some really good chances, but it just didn’t seem to be our day.”
Head Coach Dames agreed with his fourth-year player and provided an in-depth assessment of the match, which saw Chicago striker Melissa Tancredi nearly score early on when she pounced on a mishit backpass and sent the ball just over the bar as she attempted to lob netminder Michelle Betos. The Red Stars subsequently had several more promising attacks but were only able to make one of them count.
“I’d say the game was about finishing,” said Dames. “After Tancredi missed her one-on-one with the goalie, (Christen) Press hit the inside of the post and had a ball cleared just before the line, and Julie (Johnston) also had a very close look toward the end. Those were probably the four best chances of the game, and yet we lost 2-1. The bottom line is that it’s tough to win on the road in this league if you gift the other team a goal and have four great chances but can’t manage to put them away.
“Give Long credit for doing well to score the winner, but outside of that our girls didn’t give away a lot. It’s telling that Karina (LeBlanc) only had to make a couple of saves in the game. Portland had the better of the play after the break but still didn’t create much on goal. Considering it was a hostile environment, I thought we performed well and did enough to win. Our finishing simply wasn’t there.”
The team looks to improve on its conversion rate on Wednesday in order to keep pace with Seattle Reign FC, which recently leapfrogged the Red Stars, who had previously been in first place in the NWSL standings for ten consecutive weeks.
Despite Chicago having already defeated second-to-last Sky Blue FC twice this season, Dames warned against looking past Head Coach Jim Gabarra’s team, which was without key players in both previous meetings due to the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. This time around, the New-Jersey-based side is expected to feature American legend Christie Rampone, fellow U.S. international Kelley O’Hara and Australian up-and-comers Caitlin Foord and Samantha Kerr.
“Those four make Sky Blue FC a completely different team than they were before,” said the man in charge of the Red Stars. “O’Hara and Kerr both have proven attacking quality and Foord is an outside back who can get up and down the flanks and create havoc as well. In addition to being a much more dynamic team going forward, they also have Rampone now as their leader organizing the backline. With all that, we’re expecting a very different game from the ones back in May and June.”
The numbers support Dames’ assessment of the offensive threat posed by Wednesday’s opponent, as both O’Hara (3 goals, 3 assists in just 7 games) and Kerr (3 goals, 2 assists in just 5 games) rank among the top four in points on Sky Blue FC. Katy Freels (5 goals, 2 assists) and Danish star striker Nadia Nadim (4 goals, 1 assist) did their best to provide attacking sparks during the absence of the internationals, while Kristin Grubka, Lindsi Cutshall, Cami Levin and goalkeeper Brittany Cameron have been defensive mainstays all season. Grubka is likely to miss the clash with Chicago due to injury.
Over the course of the past month, Sky Blue FC has been experiencing a resurgence of sorts, as the club has collected ten points in its last five matches. Most recently, Head Coach Gabarra’s side defeated Houston Dash 2-0 on the road.
The Red Stars feature seven World Cup aces of their own, including champions Lori Chalupny, Julie Johnston and Christen Press, all of whom have played key roles since returning from the game’s biggest stage. Attacking standouts Press (8 goals, 1 assist in just 7 games) and Chalupny (1 goal, 2 assist in 4 games since Canada) are supported by the talented Vanessa DiBernardo (2 goals, 5 assists), Sofia Huerta (6 goals, 3 assists), Jen Hoy (4 goals, 3 assists) and Mautz (2 goals, 2 assists), while outside back Taryn Hemmings and midfielder Danielle Colaprico will look to once again provide defensive bite.
After offering a similar outlook on the upcoming clash as Head Coach Dames, midfielder-forward Mautz concluded her remarks by emphasizing a consistent theme of the 2015 Red Stars campaign.
“It’s definitely going to be different from when we played Sky Blue FC before,” she said. “I feel like they will be much more of a threat on the attacking side since O’Hara is a really dangerous weapon on the outside and Kerr knows how to score goals. That said, we’re still mostly focused on ourselves and on the system we want to play. It’s important that we learn from the Portland game, do the things we know we’re good at and get back on track Wednesday.”
The Chicago Red Stars look to make up ground in the hunt for the NWSL top spot when they take on visiting Sky Blue FC on August 12, followed by another home match against third-place Washington Spirit and league goal-scoring leader Crystal Dunn on Sunday, August 16. Tickets for the 2015 Red Stars campaign may be purchased by calling 773-698-6001 or by clicking here.