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Rookie striker bags brace, assist in game of firsts

By Gunnar Berndt

Chicago, Illinois – It was a game of firsts for the Red Stars on Saturday against visiting Boston Breakers. With both teams missing nearly all their World Cup players, Chicago earned a dominant 3-0 win courtesy of heroics by several rookies and newcomers, Sofia Huerta leading the pack with a brace and an assist. While Cara Walls also found the net for the first time as a pro, another first-year player, Arin Gilliland, bagged her first career assist. Goalkeeper Michele Dalton earned her first shutout in her NWSL debut.

The home side nearly opened the scoring in the 6th minute of play, as Vanessa DiBernardo released Huerta and the striker was denied by Boston goalkeeper Jami Kranich, who rushed off her line for an excellent block. Moments later, Huerta caused havoc once again. The former Santa Clara star flew up the left and sent in a dangerous cross that seemed destined to be nodded home on the goal-line by Alyssa Mautz but instead skipped off the 25-year-old’s forehead and out of bounds.

Illinois native Dalton, who started in the place of World-Cup-bound Canada goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc, came up with her first quality save just after the quarter-hour mark. Kristie Mewis released a stinging drive from the top of the area that forced Dalton to leave her feet and parry the ball wide.

The Red Stars were back on the attack in the 29th minute, as Huerta crossed from the right and Jen Hoy was able to make contact with the ball, which popped out right at the feet of Rachel Quon. The Canadian international was unlucky to see her effort at the doorstep denied by a last-ditch sliding tackle. Boston nearly punished the hosts for the missed chances in the 38th minute, Stephanie McCaffrey finding herself with an open look from close range, only to see her slightly mishit attempt comfortably saved by Dalton.

Chicago came within inches of grabbing the lead on the immediate counter, Hoy finding Huerta in the penalty area and the 22-year-old shooting just wide of the far post on a clever right-footed toe poke. Less than a minute later, the ball fell to DiBernardo for the home side’s next close look, as the midfielder rifled a short on target that forced a strong save from Kranich.

Early in the second half, the Red Stars created yet another quality opportunity. Making her return from an ankle injury, the lively Mautz released a dangerous effort that was tipped over the crossbar by netminder Kranich. Chicago finally did find the net in the 56th minute. DiBernardo’s excellent through-ball put Huerta in one-on-one and the Idaho native showed great skill in going around Kranich and slotting home for her first ever professional goal.

The hosts should have doubled their lead shortly after the hour mark, as Mautz’s nifty move on the right sent Hemmings to the byline and the former Boston defender delivered a dangerous centering ball that bounced around and fell to Hoy, who was disappointed to see her attempt at the open net miss wide.

In the 70th minute, teammate and substitute Walls would aim perfectly to open her goal-scoring account as a professional on a feed from Huerta that she blasted past the helpless Kranich to make it 2-0.

Forward Huerta continued to be a nuisance to the visitors, as she created a chance out of nowhere nine minutes from full time, turning and firing from a tight angle to force a reaction save from the Breakers shot-stopper. Moments later, the 22-year-old had her second goal when she finished at the far post on a Gilliland cross from the left that marked the rookie defender’s first ever career assist. It would be the game’s final noteworthy moment, as Chicago held on for the clean sheet and a well-deserved three points.

The Chicago Red Stars look to earn their fourth win in five NWSL fixtures when they travel to take on Houston Dash on Friday, May 15. The club’s next home match is on June 20 against Washington Spirit. Single-game and season tickets for the 2015 Red Stars campaign may be purchased by visiting www.chicagoredstars.com or by calling 773-698-6001.

Chicago Red Stars vs. Boston Breakers 3-0
Venue: Toyota Park, Bridgeview, IL
Kickoff Time: 4:25 p.m. CT

Red Stars starting lineup:
Dalton, Gilliland, Johnson, Erceg, Hemmings (C), Colaprico, Quon, DiBernardo, Matuz, Huerta, Hoy

Boston starting lineup:
Kranich, Wood, King, Kallman, Pathman, Barczuk, Schoepfer, Mewis, Rafinha, McCaffery, Marlborough

Goals: Huerta CRS 56’ (DiBernardo) – Walls CRS 70’ (Huerta) – Huerta (Gilliland) 82’

Cautions/Ejections:
Johnson CRS 22’ (yellow – verbal distraction)
King BOS 39’ (yellow – reckless foul)

Red Stars substitutions:
Walls for Mautz 67’
Lomnicki for Hemmings 84’
McCloskey for Hoy 87’

Boston substitutions:
Ezurike for Marlborough 66’
Pires for Mewis 75’
Bedoya for McCaffery 79’

Attendance: 16,017

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