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Takes on rivals Boston Breakers Saturday in doubleheader with MLS’ Fire

By Gunnar Berndt

Chicago, Illinois – The Chicago Red Stars look to stay undefeated in 2015 and earn their third win in four NWSL matches when they take on the Boston Breakers on Saturday in part two of a doubleheader with Major League Soccer’s Chicago Fire. The meeting will be a test of how well Head Coach Rory Dames and his staff are prepared for the absence of seven standouts, who are with their respective national teams to prepare for this summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada.

The Fire and visiting Real Salt Lake will open the action at Toyota Park in Bridgeview at 2 p.m. CT, followed by the meeting between the Red Stars and rivals Boston at 4 p.m. CT, which will be streamed live at www.chicagoredstars.com/live-eng (English) and www.chicagoredstars.com/live-sp (Spanish).

Radio broadcasts of the NWSL game are available at www.ChicagolandSportsRadio.com (English) and www.Livestream.com/ChicagolandSports (Spanish). The English-language broadcast may also be accessed via smart phone by downloading the TuneIn app and searching for “ChicagolandSportsRadio.”

The Red Stars most recently defeated visiting Sky Blue FC 1-0 to send off World-Cup-bound players Christen Press, Lori Chalupny, Julie Johnston, Shannon Boxx and Karina LeBlanc with a win that has their side at the top of this week’s NWSL Power Rankings. With the majority of internationals now gone, the team’s performance against the Breakers will largely depend on whether veterans like New Zealand captain Abby Erceg can step up as leaders and help maintain the momentum.

“It was good seeing the girls put in a strong effort before heading off to their national teams,” said Erceg, who did not start against Sky Blue FC due to a minor toe injury. “From the bench, you can sit back a little bit to get the bigger picture and see how the team is doing. Sometimes that’s harder when you’re involved on the field. I thought our play was positive and that we’re moving in the right direction.”

Chicago dominated possession and outshot the visitors 19-5. Rookie midfielder and former Virginia standout Danielle Colaprico scored the game-winner in the 54th minute on her first ever professional goal, a left-footed rocket from inside the box that left goalkeeper Tiffany Cameron without a chance.

“As always, there were things we can work on,” said Erceg, who will join up with New Zealand for World Cup preparations after the May 15 away match at Houston. “We did win and that was great, but obviously we wanted to be a little more definitive and score a couple more goals. That said, we’re tied for the most points in the league, which is really positive. I think we’re doing the right things at the moment.”

Red Stars Head Coach Dames agreed with his defender’s assessment.

“The players did what we asked them to do,” he offered. “We got out on the front foot, put Sky Blue under pressure and created a lot of chances. The finishing is always the last thing to come. I think it’s a great sign we’re creating so many chances that we’re already having to address the finishing.”

Visiting Boston also will have to do without the majority of its international stars. Head Coach Tom Durkin’s side has struggled on the road thus far, having fallen 4-1 to Portland in its season opener and 3-1 in its most recent match against Western New York Flash. The Breakers did record a 3-2 home win over Houston Dash on April 26.

Boston features U-23 U.S. National Team standout Stephanie MccCaffrey, who has trained with the senior Stars and Stripes squad. The striker could have ended up in Chicago this year, as she was taken by the Red Stars at number five in the 2015 NWSL College Draft and then traded back to her home state for the number nine and eleven picks, which were then used to select Colaprico and Sofia Huerta.

“We’ve analyzed what threats they present and what areas we may be able to pick out as a bit vulnerable,” said defender Erceg. “Since both teams will be without most of their World Cup players, I’m sure they’re taking the same approach to us. That said, we’re not looking to change everything to counter what they do. We know what we do well and we have girls who can step in and do a very good job. It will just be more of a collective effort.”

With Canada legend Karina LeBlanc away, 26-year-old goalkeeper Michele Dalton will make her NWSL debut for Chicago on Saturday. The former Wisconsin Badger, who spent 2013 and 2014 plying her trade in Iceland and Sweden, respectively, is held in high regard by the coaching staff.

“Obviously things are changing a bit as we’ll be getting a few different players in there this weekend,” said Head Coach Dames. “Over the course of the week, we’ve mostly worked on getting our own box organized and getting an understanding of where everyone is going on dead-ball services.

“We’ve built the team from preseason into where we are, and from past seasons we’re pretty used to playing without many big-name stars. We’ve said all along that when all the national team players are here, we have 20 potential starters vying for spots. Some players will get opportunities in these coming weeks – and deservedly so.”

25-year-old New Zealand skipper Erceg has represented her country in two World Cups and two Olympics. She will help guide a young roster that could feature as many as nine members of Red Stars Reserves, the club’s developmental team.

“With all the national team players here, it’s sometimes easier to coast a little bit,” she offered. “With them gone, I have to take my leadership role even more seriously. That said, we still have a lot of experience in the team, such as that of Taryn (Hemmings), (Canada international Rachel) Quon and all the players who were here last year. We will rely on them and myself to step up and lead the group.”

Defender Hemmings made 29 appearances for the Breakers between 2010 and 2012.

The rivalry between Chicago and Boston dates back to six years ago, when the two sides first faced off in the WPS league. In recent seasons, fans have witnessed many more intense battles, including several in the WPSL Elite and the NWSL. For the doubleheader at Toyota Park, the Red Stars return to their 2009 and 2010 WPS home venue, where they ranked second in attendance both years. The team has spent the week preparing for the switch from its regular artificial surface at Benedictine University in Lisle.

“We’re excited for Saturday,” said Head Coach Dames. “It will be nice to get on a bigger field. Boston usually plays on turf too, so we’ll both be coming from turf to grass. I don’t think any of the players will be complaining about playing on grass and in front of a really big crowd. The goal is to show everyone there what we’re capable of.”

The Chicago Red Stars look to earn their third win in four NWSL fixtures when they take on Boston Breakers Saturday in the doubleheader with MLS outfit Chicago Fire at Toyota Park in Bridgeview. Tickets for both matches may be purchased by clicking here and entering the promo code “FIRE” (all caps). Anyone looking to attend only the Red Stars game should call the club’s front office at 773-698-6001 for $10 General Admission tickets.

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