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Newly crowned NWSL Rookie of the Year recaps 2015, sets sights on 2016 championship

By Gunnar Berndt

Chicago, Ill. – When Danielle Colaprico was drafted by the Chicago Red Stars back in January, she felt confident that if she worked hard, a starting spot would ultimately be in the cards for her. However, the New Jersey native couldn’t have expected for things to go quite as well as they did in her first pro season, outstanding performances at holding midfield earning Colaprico both the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) Rookie of the Year award and a selection to the NWSL Second XI, a list of players who came close to making the Best XI.

After joining Chicago, the former University of Virginia standout quickly drew attention from around the country by consistently featuring in her team’s lineup, and she would not relinquish that role for the remainder of the year. With the help of Colaprico, who fell just 14 minutes short of going the distance in every regular season match, the Red Stars led the league for ten straight weeks and reached the playoffs for the first time in their professional history.

Having finished second in the standings behind Seattle Reign FC, Head Coach Rory Dames’ squad hosted a semifinal knockout clash with defending champions FC Kansas City. Despite a spirited performance, Chicago fell to its star-studded opposition in somewhat bizarre fashion, the 3-0 result hardly reflecting the play on the field.

When a period of intense early pressure by the Red Stars failed to yield any goals, Amy Rodriguez punished the home side at the other end, as she pounced a defensive giveaway and slotted into the open net. The striker would bag another tally in the first half, shortly after fellow U.S. international Erika Tymrak had added her name to the score sheet. Colaprico and company put up a brave fight after the break but were unable launch a comeback against their veteran counterparts.

Offered the 22-year-old, “It was definitely frustrating to end up losing by three, because I thought that we did some really good things on the field and it was nice to see that. I would even say that we moved the ball better than we did all year. But for that brief period when the goals happened, we fell asleep defensively and that hurt us. It was just really disappointing.”

Chicago’s attacking dominance in the opening stages of the match included two efforts off the crossbar by forward Christen Press. Over the course of the 90 minutes, the attack around the Stars and Stripes ace held an 18-11 edge on shots over visiting FCKC, which featured numerous players with U.S. Women’s National Team experience.

Said Colaprico, “We’re a very young team that had never been to the playoffs in the NWSL, so I do think it comes down to a bit of a lack in experience. We created a lot of chances in the game, but they were the ones who put theirs away, so it really was a question of finishing. The fact we outshot them by a fairly big margin goes to show that we played well and were really unfortunate.”

The defeat marked the end of a Chicago campaign that had seen the club dominate the competition in the absence of eight World Cup players, only for the internationals’ return to cause a distraction that allowed mighty Seattle to take over and repeat as regular season champions.

“With so many of our stars gone for a while, it was definitely an odd year,” said Colaprico. “But after we started so well, we pushed through even after they left. When they came back, it was a bit of a challenge integrating them back into the lineup and getting everybody up to speed on what we had been working on. That was an adjustment period for us, which led to a bit of a struggle. But in the end the Kansas City game showed what we’re capable of – even with the result not going our way.”

The U-23 U.S. standout was one of four first-year professionals signed to the Red Stars’ senior roster in 2015. Three of them, Colaprico, defender Arin Gilliland and forward Sofia Huerta, each started the majority of matches over the course of the campaign and contributed significantly to the team’s success. In addition to the trio of up-and-comers being voted to the NWSL Second XI, both Colaprico and Huerta were nominated for Rookie of the Year, with the former ultimately claiming the award.

Midfielder Colaprico, who makes up for her small stature through grandiose grit and passing accuracy, is proud of what her side has accomplished this year. In the spirit of Head Coach Dames, who recently declared “mission accomplished” on a three-year plan devised back in early 2013, the Red Stars’ leader in minutes closed by providing her own progress report and an optimistic outlook toward the future.

“Even though I wasn’t here last year, I would say we took big steps forward in 2015,” she said. “We changed the style of play, and I think that adding us three rookies had a lot to do with that. Last year was more direct and this year we possessed the ball very well. Next season, I think we can focus on possessing the ball even better and on improving our play in the final third. I really believe that we can be the best team in the league and win the NWSL championship.”

Colaprico and her fellow up-and-comers will be battling for NWSL glory alongside Chicago’s established internationals throughout 2016. Season tickets may be purchased by calling 773-698-6001 or by clicking here.

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