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Red Stars look to return to winning ways with regular season winding down

By Gunnar Berndt

Chicago, Ill. – Despite his side having dropped points of late as a result of being unable to hold leads in five of its last six games, Red Stars Head Coach Rory Dames appeared confident heading into this coming Sunday’s home clash with Washington Spirit. The matchup at Benedictine University in Lisle is a classic six-pointer, as Chicago sits in second place in the standings, three points ahead of fourth-place Washington Spirit, which is tied on points with third-place FC Kansas City.

Chicago and Washington are scheduled to do battle at 7:30 p.m. CT on August 16, with livestreams available in English here and in Spanish here. Radio broadcasts will be provided in English here and in Spanish here.

In their most recent game this past Wednesday, the Red Stars drew 1-1 with visiting Sky Blue FC, which has experienced a resurgence of sorts over the course of the past month. Canadian international Adriana Leon gave the home side the lead, only for Australia ace Samantha Kerr to tie things up for the New-Jersey-based opposition. The equalizer came ten minutes from the break and directly followed a giveaway in the midfield by 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup Golden Ball nominee Julie Johnston.

“It was similar to the other games in which we struggled to hold on to a lead,” said Chicago Head Coach Dames. “The first 30 minutes were good. We scored, hit the post and the crossbar and had a couple more really good looks. Then we made a mistake on their goal, which has also been a familiar theme. In other games it’s been giving up a goal on a corner or a miscommunication between the goalie and the center back, and this time it was losing possession in a bad area.”

In continuing his analysis of the match, the man in charge of the Red Stars pointed out that his team had been at a significant disadvantage in terms of scheduling, having battled Portland Thorns FC on the road just three days prior to Wednesday’s home game.

“After scoring, Sky Blue came into the game a bit and things were pretty balanced until the break, and that continued in the first 15 minutes of the second half,” he said. “But the final 30 minutes were always going to be very difficult for us, considering they played the previous Friday while we played Sunday night, had to fly back Monday morning and were only left with Tuesday for our recovery.”

Some fans and pundits had without doubt underestimated Sky Blue FC due to its second-to-last position in the NWSL standings, disregarding the fact Head Coach Jim Gebarra’s side was coming off a 2-0 road win over Houston Dash and had grabbed ten points from its previous five matches. The club’s resurgence can no doubt be attributed in large parts to the return of four internationals who had competed in the World Cup, Americans Christie Rampone and Kelley O’Hara and Australians Kerr and Caitlin Foord.

“The team we faced on Wednesday is a good team,” said Dames. “O’Hara, (Danish striker Nadia) Nadim and Kerr are as good as any front three in the league, and (midfielder Katy) Freels seems to get better every time we play her. Foord is one of the most dangerous outside backs in the NWSL and Rampone is the most experienced center back in the league.

“They did a good job against us in the second half. I think the shots and corner kicks were pretty even. After the break, we simply started losing the territory battles – by a lot. That’s something we’ve been seeing in most of our recent games. The stats are usually in our favor, but most of our opportunities come early and then we drop off.”

When asked about his approach to the upcoming meeting with a Washington Spirit side that features league-leading goal-scorer Crystal Dunn (12 goals, 2 assists), Dames revealed surprisingly candid insight into the conclusions he has drawn from the recent stretch of matches.

With a total of seven players rejoining the Red Stars following the World Cup, fans have seen frequent changes to the lineup as the coaching staff looked to be working on the reintegration of their stars into the squad. While Sky Blue FC has benefitted from having all of its standouts back, Chicago has gone 1-1-4 since the first game with most of its internationals once again available for selection. Among that group are Americans Julie Johnston, Lori Chalupny and Christen Press (8 goals, 1 assist in just 8 games), all of whom will miss Sunday’s match due to the U.S. Women’s victory tour.

“We were in a good enough spot that we could try some different things,” said Dames. “Each player who came back got at least two starts, and we also tried some different tactical lineups. The reality is that it wasn’t broken to begin with, so it didn’t actually need fixing. We still feel very good about the group that was so successful during the World Cup and about the way those players bought into what we wanted them to do. We feel good about what our approach was on both sides of the ball. Maybe we’ve gotten away from that a bit as we’ve tried to see what the internationals can bring.”

Thus hinting some of those who competed in Canada may not be locks in the Red Stars lineup, the team’s Head Coach has many anxiously waiting to find out who will take the field in the clash with Washington. Whoever gets the nod will be up against the attacking prowess of Dunn, Christine Nairn (5 goals, 2 assists) and two World Cup participants in Canadian Diana Matheson and Nigerian Francisca Ordega (2 goal, 2 assists each), Matheson having scored in consecutive NWSL games heading into Wednesday. Like goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris, midfielder Ali Krieger will also be absent due to the U.S. victory tour.

Harris’ spectacular stops saved a 1-1 draw for her club in in a July 25 meeting with visiting Chicago. Red Stars standout Press found the net in the first half, followed by a late Dunn equalizer for the home side.

The Spirit backline around rookie Megan Oyster and veterans Estelle Johnson and Katherine Reynolds will be tasked with neutralizing a trio of Chicago players who stepped up during the international absences, Sofia Huerta (6 goals, 3 assists), Vanessa DiBernardo (2 goals, 5 assists) and Jen Hoy (3 goals, 4 assists).

While holding midfielder Danielle Colaprico and outside back Arin Gilliland are relatively safe bets to start once more for the Red Stars, Head Coach Dames has hinted that veteran defender Taryn Hemmings may also return to the first eleven after being rested against Sky Blue FC. The man tasked with selecting a winning lineup closed his remarks on an optimistic note, indicating that increased consistency may be in the cards for his side over the course of the remaining four regular season games.

“I actually feel more confident than at any other point in the year, because all of our questions have been answered,” he offered. “We have a pretty good idea of who we’re going to see out our campaign with.”

The Chicago Red Stars welcome league goal-scoring leader Crystal Dunn and fellow title favorites Washington Spirit to Benedictine University in Lisle this coming Sunday, August 14. Tickets for the 2015 Red Stars campaign may be purchased by calling 773-698-6001 or by clicking here.

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