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Huge crowd expected for Sunday’s game as USWNT players could feature

By Gunnar Berndt

Chicago, Ill. – Chicago Head Coach Rory Dames has found himself in a peculiar situation this week. Mere days after the final of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, the man in charge of the NWSL leaders is unsure which of the stars who participated in the prestigious tournament will be ready, or even present, for Sunday’s massive road clash with Houston Dash. Reports have indicated as many as 12,000 fans might make their way to BBVA Compass Stadium in hopes of seeing some of the seven Americans who recently lifted the World Cup trophy, one of them being Dash attacker and hero of the final, Carli Lloyd.

The match between the Red Stars and hosts Houston Dash is scheduled to kick off at 7:30 p.m. CT and will be streamed live here.

While Houston features two more players who represented the U.S. in Canada, defender Meghan Klingenberg and midfielder Morgan Brian, Chicago features a total of four standouts who were part of Jill Ellis’ squad – center back sensation Julie Johnston, striker Christen Press, defender-midfielder Lori Chalupny and midfield legend Shannon Boxx.

Either side may also have a trio of Canadian World Cup participants at its disposal, as Red Stars netminder Karina LeBlanc has been back training with the team alongside forwards Melissa Tancredi and Adriana Leon, while goalkeeper Erin McLeod and defenders Allysha Chapman and Lauren Sesselmann are expected back with the Dash.

With the exception of Chicago’s New Zealand captain Abby Erceg, whose team was eliminated at the group stage, it is entirely unclear which of the internationals will be physically and mentally ready to start after a grueling tournament north of the border.

The Red Stars most recently downed Sky Blue FC 3-0 away to defend its spot atop the standings, Jen Hoy, Sofia Huerta, Vanessa DiBernardo and Alyssa Mautz all putting in strong offensive performances and Erceg’s standout play on defense helping goalkeeper Michele Dalton earn her fourth shutout of 2015.

Said Head Coach Dames, “For the Houston game, we’ve put all of our concentration and effort into the things that we can control, which is primarily cleaning up details in our own game and tidying up our defense after giving up some chances against Sky Blue that we shouldn’t have. We’re also still working to keep improving our quality in front of the goal and finishing opportunities, which will always remain a focus throughout the year.”

After a strong opening to the season with all eight of their World Cup players available, the Red Stars hardly lost a step following the internationals’ departure as they continued to earn points at home and on the road, several rookies and NWSL newcomers making a name for themselves in the process. That has Dames facing the difficult task of deciding who will feature in the first eleven once everyone is back and ready to go.

“For Sunday, what we know is that at the very least we’ll have the same players available that have performed at a high level over the past months,” said the Chicago Head Coach. We’ve gone through our normal preparations and haven’t concerned ourselves too much with Houston since it’s impossible to predict what they’re going to do.”

Dames did offer a more in-depth analysis of past tactical approaches taken by the Dash, which saw the visiting Red Stars battle back from a two-goal deficit in the two teams’ only previous meeting of the campaign on May 15.

“In that game, they played out of a 4-4-2 even though they usually play a 4-3-3, so who knows what it will be this time,” he said. “For what we try to do, it really doesn’t make a huge difference which of those two systems we’re dealing with. It really only changes who we pass the ball to under pressure and where the space is that we want to attack. We’ll see how all that plays out once the whistle blows.”

Houston has experienced a resurgence of sorts in its past five matches, over the course of which Head Coach Randy Waldrum’s squad fell just once and earned a 1-0 road win against mighty Portland Thorns FC. Defender Niki Cross has been a surprise revelation for the team whose attack is led by Jessica McDonald (5 goals) and Kealia Ohai (3 goals, 2 assists).

While the emergence of rookies like Danielle Colaprico, Arin Gilliland and team goal-scoring leader Huerta has been essential to the Red Stars success this year, the young roster has also benefited from the leadership of veteran defender Taryn Hemmings and second-year pro Vanessa DiBernardo, whose five assists are tops in NWSL.

Head Coach Dames did not seem concerned about potential conflict or dissatisfaction among the many players who will be laying claim to spots in the field during the remainder of the season.

“Having 20 good performers is never a bad thing,” he offered in closing out his remarks. “It makes training sessions better and more competitive, which in turn makes each individual player and the team even better. Our job is not to worry about who has the biggest name or who has done what in the World Cup. Our job is to get points for the Red Stars. When everyone is back and ready, we’re going to choose the players that had the best week of training and give us the best chance at winning. End of story.”

After taking on hosts Houston Dash on Sunday, July 12, the Chicago Red Stars will honor all eight of their World Cup participants, including their U.S. quartet, ahead of the official “Welcome Home Game” against Boston Breakers on July 18, which will also serve as the club’s 2015 Pride Night. Single-game and season tickets for the 2015 Red Stars campaign may be purchased by calling 773-698-6001 or by clicking here.

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