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Players, coaches warn against underestimating last-place team

By Gunnar Berndt

Chicago, Ill. – The Chicago Red Stars will be excited to take the field for a full 90 minutes on Sunday after a two-week NWSL break during the group stage of the FIFA Women’s World Cup and a home meeting with Washington Spirit last weekend that was first delayed for nearly four hours and then called off entirely due to inclement weather. When recently asked about the current state of affairs, players and coaches did not seem concerned about a potential impact on the team’s rhythm but warned against taking the upcoming opponent, last-place Sky Blue FC, lightly.

Sunday’s match at Yurcak Field in Piscataway, NJ, is scheduled to kick off at 5 p.m. CT and will be streamed live at www.chicagoredstars.com/live-eng.

Red Stars defender-midfielder Rachel Quon was optimistic her side would emerge unscathed from the unusual stretch of just 38 minutes of soccer in 21 days.

“Over the past few weeks, we’ve just continued to train and to try and get better as a group,” said the Canadian international. “We didn’t have a full game during that time, but we were able to play some eleven on eleven within our own team, which was helpful. I’m not concerned. If anything, it’s even more exciting now to finally get out and play.”

The sentiment was echoed by Chicago Head Coach Rory Dames, who went on to emphasize that while his squad played part of one half against Washington, Sky Blue FC has not been involved in any NWSL action whatsoever since June 6.

“We’ve gone through our normal routine of how we go about preparing for a game during the week,” offered Dames. “Both teams will be in the same situation. They haven’t played a game in a while either since they had a bye last week, so I don’t think we’re at an advantage or a disadvantage. We just need to be focused and do what has made us successful in the past.”

When asked for his assessment of the opponent in Sunday’s matchup, the man in charge of the Red Stars pointed to a 1-0 home victory over Sky Blue FC in early May that saw his side fail to capitalize on a number of quality chances. In looking back, Dames downplayed his side’s dominance in the game, which was helped by the fact Chicago had most of its internationals still available while all of Sky Blue’s World Cup players had already departed to prepare for soccer’s most prestigious tournament.

“Let’s remember that we only won by a single goal and that we needed a corner kick to score, which shows that it was pretty competitive,” offered the Red Stars Head Coach. “Our finishing certainly wasn’t the best, but that’s something we’ve been working on. Our players’ quality around the goal needs to continue to improve and I think each week it’ll get a little better.”

Despite having suffered is first defeat of the season in a June 6 away meeting with Western New York Flash, Dames’ side remains atop the standings courtesy of a 4-3-1 record, one point ahead of Seattle Reign FC and Washington, which has played one fewer games than both of its adversaries. While Red Stars rookie sensation Sofia Huerta is tied for the league goal-scoring lead with six, teammate Vanessa DiBernardo’s five assists on the campaign rank highest in the NWSL.

Even though Sky Blue FC sits in last place in the table with just seven points from nine matches, a quick look at the club’s results over the course of the season reveals that all but two of them were either draws or defeats by the smallest possible margin. Chicago Head Coach Dames has taken notice.

“I think their record is a little deceiving, considering how competitive they’ve been in their games,” he said. “It’s difficult to earn points in this league, especially on the road and regardless of who or where you’re playing. I’m sure Sky Blue has had a good break and I’m sure (Head Coach) Jim (Gabarra) has taken that time to get them organized and build them up. They came on very strong in the second half of 2014 and I would assume they’re looking to use this game as a catapult to do the same thing this year.”

Red Stars defender-midfielder Quon also cautioned against underestimating the New-Jersey-based side, whose attack has been led by midfielder Katy Freels (4 goals, 1 assist) and striker Nadia Nadim (2 goals, 3 assists).

“They always give us a difficult game,” said Quon, an Illinois native. “They like to move the ball and have some lethal weapons up top and in the middle, so we really need to focus on being organized and on keeping the ball. We’re still very much focused on playing our own game and on improving every single time we’re out on the field. “

The Chicago Red Stars travel to take on Sky Blue FC on June 26 at 5 p.m. CT. The club’s next home match is a July 18 meeting with Boston Breakers at Benedictine University in Lisle. 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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