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Two-time English champ embraces new challenges on and off the field

By Gunnar Berndt

Chicago, Ill. – When 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup winner Lori Chalupny announced her retirement from pro soccer back in December, many wondered how Chicago Head Coach Rory Dames planned to replace his long-time captain’s midfield presence. The answer came in January, and it has to have Red Stars fans excited for the upcoming NWSL campaign, as they can look forward to counting Portugal international and two-time English champion Amanda DaCosta among their club’s newest players.

The New York State native joined Chicago via trade with her former club Washington Spirit. DaCosta is expected to power a potent Chicago attack featuring Stars and Stripes ace Christen Press and U-23 U.S. standout Vanessa DiBernardo, with another American senior international, Danielle Colaprico, serving as connector between the defense and offense.

“I know that Rory basically sees me as an attacking center mid to sit behind Christen Press, alongside Colaprico and DiBernardo,” said the recent Red Stars acquisition via phone from Florida. “They’re both super technical, and I think I fit right in and could be a good addition, especially using Press’s speed and creativity to help her get in behind the backline, score goals and be a constant threat.

“I’m excited because Chicago was very good last year. They were very hard to play against and really athletic, and there seems to be a great group of girls there. I can’t wait to work with everyone and earn my spot in the lineup.”

Having represented the U.S. at various youth levels, DaCosta fits right in with the Red, White and Blue flair of her new club’s roster. However, the 26-year-old has been a brand-new member of the full Portugal squad since this past December, thanks to holding dual citizenship as the daughter of immigrant parents. The switch of international allegiances adds to a fascinating résumé which also includes back-to-back English league crowns from the midfielder’s time with Liverpool Ladies FC in 2013 and 2014.

“It really helped me being outside my comfort zone and in a different country far away from home,” she said. “In order to succeed, I had to learn how to work with new people and find ways to win games. I’m a very technical player, but I’m also a hard worker. The girls around me were all similar to me in that sense and taught me how to fight through tough situations and get that late toe-poke goal or assist.”

Despite starring in Europe, the former Florida State Seminole waited in vain for a call-up to the senior U.S. squad, prompting her to finally embrace the interest from her parents’ native country mere months ago, following repeated inquiries by the Portuguese federation over the years. Having previously reaffirmed her commitment to one day playing for the Stars and Stripes, DaCosta explained what ultimately led to the change of heart and reflected on the beginnings of a new chapter in her life.

“I’m turning 27 in October,” she said. “While I know that’s still young, playing internationally has always been one of my dreams and I don’t know how much longer my career will last. When Portugal reached out to me this time around, it just seemed right. I’ve been living in the moment ever since, and who knows where this will take me exactly, but so far I have absolutely no regrets. While it’s not easy being part of a different culture, I’ve been able to get caps, learn another language and meet some European-based family members for the first time. All of that has been a true blessing.”

In some ways a typical first-generation American who is able to understand her parents’ mother tongue to some extent but hasn’t spoken much herself, DaCosta especially delighted her father with her decision to represent Portugal, as he had long rooted for her to do so. The former U.S. youth standout made her senior international debut this past December in a match against heavy favorites Spain, helping her side to a spirited defensive performance and a respectable 2-0 defeat.

“When I finally told my dad I was playing for Portugal, he freaked out,” DaCosta remembered. “Both of my parents came to Europe for my first trip and they were there for the game, with my dad wearing his Portugal scarf. They were just totally pumped and everything was more emotional than I expected. When I first looked at my jersey, I was like, ‘Whoa, this feels weird after always wearing the U.S. crest.’ But it ended up being a really awesome experience.”

The way the pride of Katonah, New York, reflects on dealing with her new international teammates should have Chicago supporters excited for what she can bring to her NWSL club’s locker room.

“Everyone on Portugal has been welcoming,” she said. “There were some girls who didn’t speak any English, which made it hard to get to know them. But I really tried and stayed after our meetings to make sure we were all on the same page. It’s a lot of work, but I’ll gladly do it if that’s what it takes to show that I’m serious about it and that I care about my Portuguese heritage. What I may sometimes lack in language skills, I try to convey through my work ethic and my willingness to learn.

“I do think I’m somewhat of a natural leader, but not so much through speeches but more by putting my head down and working hard, especially when I don’t know my surroundings that well yet. Part of that is trying to understand the philosophy and tactics as quickly as possible by asking questions. I’m definitely not shy and I don’t pretend to be a fly on the wall. Other than that, I just try to have a good time on the field and with my teammates.”

Of course, there are good times to be had off the field in Chicagoland as well.

“I’ve lived in a lot of different places, and I’ve been very fortunate that they were all really cool,” reminisced DaCosta. “Now I’m really excited to be going to yet another awesome place. Outside the trips for soccer, I’ve never spent too much time in Chicago. I haven’t even seen the Bean, so I guess I’ll have a lot of exploring to do when I get there. Some people I know live in Chicago, including my best friend. It will be really nice to get to see them all after such a long time.”

While DaCosta has been asked to play defensive midfielder for Portugal, her role with the Red Stars is almost certain to be a very different one, and one with which she is much more familiar. Looking ahead to the 2016 campaign, the former Liverpool and Spirit ace, who also laced up for Washington Freedom, MagicJack and Boston Breakers early in her career, was brimming with confidence and anticipation.

“I’d say that I’m good at being that creative player who likes to help put attacks together,” she offered. “Right off the bat, I want to develop a strong connection with the girls around me to make sure we’re playing good soccer, whether that means getting myself into scoring positions or others. Judging by the collection of players Rory (Dames) has assembled and by what Chicago has done in past seasons, I think the championship is completely within our reach.”

Amanda DaCosta and her Chicago Red Stars will be battling for domestic glory in 2016. Season tickets for the upcoming campaign at Toyota Park in Bridgeview may be purchased by calling 773-697-8699 or by clicking here.

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