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First place on the line in NWSL blockbuster match

By Gunnar Berndt

Chicago, Illinois – After playing a game a week starting April 18 and staying undefeated through seven, NWSL leaders Chicago Red Stars recently headed into their first match-less weekend on the heels of their first loss of the campaign, a 3-1 decision away to Western New York Flash on June 6. When asked for a status update, Head Coach Rory Dames and midfielder Danielle Colaprico on Thursday stressed the team’s unwavering confidence heading into Saturday’s blockbuster clash with second-place Washington Spirit.

Said Dames, “We gave the players a few days off after the Western New York game, got them all back into town towards the end of last week, did some work over the weekend and then got ourselves back into our normal routine this week. There’s nothing to be negative about after the loss. You’re going to lose games in the league, so when it happens, you learn from it and you move on. That’s what we’ve done.”

Having gone 4-0-3 prior to the match against the Flash, Chicago continues to sit in first place in the standings, with a game in hand on Washington and a one-point advantage but with one fewer games than third-place Seattle Reign FC, which only trails by four points. Impressively, the Red Stars managed much of their early-season run without the majority of their eight internationals competing in the World Cup. The young squad’s response to its first defeat will be a good indicator of its emotional maturity and the leadership of veterans like Taryn Hemmings, Michelle Wenino, Alyssa Mautz and Rachel Quon.

The Red Stars showed signs of tiring legs in the meeting with Western New York, which came at the tail end of a four-game road swing that also saw the club beat defending champions FC Kansas City and draw with Houston Dash and current Shield holders Seattle.

“The days off really allowed us to regroup after the Flash game,” offered rookie sensation Colaprico, who has gone the distance in every single contest this season. “We needed the rest because the constant travel was really rough on our bodies. Now it’s great to be back on the training field and finally playing a match at home this weekend. The past few practices have been really good and I think we’ll be prepared for Washington.”

Whether Chicago can earn three points on Saturday will depend partly on which Spirit team shows up for the match, the one that recently drew at home with Boston Breakers and barely edged out a 1-0 win over last-place Sky Blue FC, or the one that has registered impressive wins over FCKC and Portland Thorns FC. In fact, a glance at Washington’s 4-3-2 record thus far reveals that Head Coach Mark Parsons’ side has been somewhat inconsistent since opening weekend and benefits in the standings from having played more games than all but one of its league competitors.

The Spirit will no doubt be motivated for the match at Benedictine University in Lisle, as a solid showing against the Red Stars would help establish the club among the elite of title contenders about halfway through the season. With the two sides dealing with a similar number of World Cup absences, Washington has been led by a pair of defenders, veteran Katherine Reynolds and rookie Megan Oyster, as well as two attackers with experience playing for the U.S. senior team, Christine Nairn and Crystal Dunn.

While Nairn has bagged four goals and an assist on the campaign, lots of eyes will be on Dunn and first-year Chicago striker Sofia Huerta, who are tied for the league lead with six tallies apiece. Most likely to set up Huerta for future strikes is midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo, who is top of the league in assists with four.

“We’ve spent most of the last few days just finding our rhythm and our flow again and didn’t really start looking at Washington until later in the week,” said Red Stars Head Coach Dames. “We may tweak a thing here or there specifically for them, but overall we’ll just try to keep getting better at what we do. The players are familiar with Crystal Dunn. When you look at what she’s done in the past and this season, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know what she’s capable of.”

Rookie Colaprico made it clear what her side’s mindset is heading into the clash with the Spirit.

“We’ve watched film on Washington and they’re definitely a very good team,” she remarked. “They’re right behind us in the table, so we really want to hunt down that win, which would put us four points ahead of them in the standings. Everyone is definitely aware how big this game is.”

Chicago hosts second-place Washington Spirit in a true blockbuster matchup on June 20. The first 1,000 fans through the gate will receive an NWSL World Cup poster, and there is additional incentive to get to Benedictine University in Lisle 90 minutes prior to kickoff for the club’s “Yard Sale,” with 80% off select merchandise and 10% of proceeds going to Gonzo Soccer, a non-profit soccer and leadership academy for young girls. Former Red Stars defender Jackie Santacatarina will be on hand for the day’s coin toss and will be joined on the concourse by 2013 MLS MVP Mike Magee for halftime autographs.

Single-game and season tickets for the 2015 Chicago Red Stars campaign may be purchased by calling 773-698-6001 or by clicking here.

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