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Club looks to extend NWSL unbeaten run to six in front of national TV audience

By Gunnar Berndt

Chicago, Ill. – The second-place Chicago Red Stars look to extend their unbeaten run in National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) play to six on Sunday night, as they travel to take on Portland Thorns FC in front of a national television audience. Head Coach Rory Dames and 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup winner Lori Chalupny recently provided their thoughts on the match against an opponent that is desperate for points in its quest to reach the postseason.

The August 9 clash at Portland’s Providence Park is set to kick off at 8:30 p.m. CT and will be broadcast live on Fox Sports 1, with a livestream available here.

Having been atop the league table for most of the season, the Red Stars were recently leapfrogged by mighty Seattle Reign FC after conceding costly equalizers in three of their last four fixtures, two of those coming in the closing stages of meetings with fellow title contenders. On the brighter side, the club is riding a five-game unbeaten streak and trailing Seattle by a mere three points while having played one fewer games than its rival from the Pacific Northwest.

“As we enter the match against Portland and the final third of our season, we’ve put ourselves in a really good place,” offered the 31-year-old Chalupny. “That said, every point is still so important to our goal of securing a playoff spot. We’ve dropped a few points by giving away late goals, so that’s definitely on our mind ahead of Sunday. We need to really focus on playing a full ninety minutes. If we get a lead, we have to try to limit opportunities against us. Part of that is continuing to attack and not sitting back so much.”

Chicago bagged 2-1 away wins over Houston Dash and Boston Breakers on either side of a 1-1 home draw with Boston on July 18 that saw opposition forward Stephanie McCaffrey level the score just after the hour mark to leave the sellout crowd somewhat deflated. Next, Head Coach Rory Dames’ squad tied hosts Washington Spirit 1-1 on July 25 and visiting NWSL champions FC Kansas City 2-2 on August 1, Washington’s Crystal Dunn and FCKC’s Sarah Hagen scoring late for their respective teams to prevent the Red Stars from taking three points on both occasions.

While disappointed with another late opposition tally in the clash with Kansas City, which was played in front of a second straight capacity crowd at Benedictine University in Lisle, Dames highlighted improvements from the previous weekends’ meetings with the Spirit and the Breakers.

“When we gave away leads in those other games, I think we lost our collective concentration and made mistakes as a group,” he assessed. “This time was simply an individual breakdown. The key was one person not following their responsibility at an important moment in the game, and then we also have to give (FCKC goal-scorer) Hagen credit for making a good play on the ball. Overall, we didn’t give away a lot, which put us right where we wanted to be in the game – until the equalizer happened.”

Midfielder Chalupny, whose goal and two assists in her last three appearances have been slightly overshadowed by four recent strikes from fellow U.S. star Christen Press, has seen more encouraging signs since returning from the World Cup.

“The team clearly continued to progress after we left,” offered the Chicago captain. “Julie (Johnston), Christen, Shannon (Boxx) and I would get together and watch the games while we were in Canada, and we got to see some of the younger players take on more of a leadership role. We’ve definitely seen even more of that since we got back. I think a number of players have grown and are more confident and willing to take on responsibility to help make the team successful.”

While standouts like Chalupny, Johnston and Press (8 goals, 1 assist in just 6 games) have played key roles for Chicago since competing on the game’s biggest stage, a number of players who stepped up in the absence of the internationals have continued their strong runs of form. Among them are attacking aces Vanessa DiBernardo (2 goals, 5 assists), Sofia Huerta (6 goals, 3 assists) and Jen Hoy (4 goals, 3 assists), as well as veteran outside back Taryn Hemmings and rookie midfielder Danielle Colaprico.

While managing expectations for the upcoming meeting with fifth-place Thorns FC, Dames hinted at his mindset as his team enters the final stretch of the regular season.

Offered the Red Stars Head Coach, “We’re on track to accomplish the first of our goals for the year, which is to make the playoffs, so this is definitely not a must-win for us. We mostly look at the game as a great chance to get acclimated to playing in hostile environments, since that’s likely to happen in the postseason.”

Dames’ players will have their work cut out for them against Portland, which battled back from two down to draw 2-2 with hosts Chicago on April 25 and most recently thumped visiting Sky Blue FC 5-2 behind a dominant performance after the break. The star-studded Thorns FC roster features a total of nine 2015 World Cup participants, including injured superstar Alex Morgan, fellow American Tobin Heath, German goalkeeping giant Nadine Angerer, Canadian legend Christine Sinclair and English striker Jodie Taylor.

Much like the Red Stars’ Dames, Portland Head Coach Paul Riley has been careful in rotating his internationals back into the lineup after what has been a physically and mentally demanding tournament in Canada. During the World Cup, the side was led by U.S. attacker Allie Long (7 goals, 4 assists), midfielder Meleana Shim (4 goals, 3 assists), veteran Sinead Farrelly and defenders Kat Williamson and Emily Menges. In the meeting with Chicago, Thorns FC will look to earn its third consecutive victory.

“Portland is a slightly different team than they were when we played them in April,” said Dames in concluding his remarks, “but they did have their World Cup players then as well, so we feel like we have a fairly good idea of what to expect. It will be a great challenge against a very good team and we’re really looking forward to it.”

The Chicago Red Stars look to extend their NWSL unbeaten streak to six games when they travel to take on Portland Thorns FC in a nationally televised contest on Sunday, August 9. The club’s next home match is a clash with visiting Sky Blue FC on Wednesday, August 12. Tickets for the 2015 Red Stars campaign may be purchased by calling 773-698-6001 or by clicking here.

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