Travel to East Coast for Saturday rematch with long-time rival
By Gunnar Berndt
Chicago, Ill. – Fresh off a scoreless draw with Western New York Flash that saw Chicago clinch its first ever National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) playoff berth, Head Coach Rory Dames’ squad travels to the East Coast for a rematch with its long-time rival on Saturday. While positioning is on the line against an opponent that has been eliminated from postseason contention, defender and 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup Golden Ball nominee Julie Johnston also stressed the importance of building momentum in her team’s final two regular season matches.
Chicago’s August 29 clash with hosts Western New York is scheduled to kick off at 6 p.m. CT, with a livestreams available here. All of the action may also be followed via the Red Stars’ official gameday Twitter account.
Johnston and company are aware they will need to shift into higher gear if they are to lift the championship trophy at Portland’s Providence Park on October 1, as the side who led the league for ten straight weeks this season is currently on a six-game winless streak. With Chicago, FC Kansas City and Washington Spirit all sitting on 29 points behind league leaders Seattle Reign FC, second place in the table would give the Red Stars home-field advantage in its September 13 semifinal match. In order to accomplish that, Johnston and company will need to leapfrog FCKC, which has played one more game.
“I think it helps that we can now relax a bit and don’t have to stress about trying to clinch a spot,” said the U.S. Women’s National Team star. “Having made it to the postseason is a huge positive, but we also know we want to play better as a team, especially leading up to the knockout games. These next two games are good for us to try and get some good team chemistry going and build the confidence that we hope can carry us all the way through the playoffs.”
In the 0-0 tie with the Flash this past Sunday, Chicago created several excellent opportunities, the strike tandem of Christen Press and Sofia Huerta finding themselves in dangerous spots in the opening half especially.
“Obviously, scoring is what gets you wins and finishing the opportunities we get is huge,” said defender Johnston, who came within inches of nodding home from close range at the quarter-hour mark against Western New York. “That said, I think in general we need to focus on improving as a game goes on. In this last game against Western New York, we hit a bit of a wall after the break in terms of trying to keep the ball. If all of us on the field do a better job of keeping possession, I think that would really help.”
The Flash has shown some inconsistency in 2015, as Head Coach Aaran Lines’ side defeated the Red Stars 3-1 back in June behind an impressive performance and recently drew 1-1 away with third-place Washington but has also registered disappointing results like a 4-0 defeat to FCKC on August 8.
The ups and downs throughout Western New York’s campaigns can be partially explained by the club’s young and relatively inexperienced roster. While the Flash has acquired three World Cup players since mid-July in Nigerian midfielder Halimatu Ayinde and a pair of forwards, Australian Michelle Heyman and Colombian Lady Andrade, only Heyman has secured a spot in the starting lineup. The team’s most dangerous attackers relative to minutes played, Lynn Williams (4 goals, 4 assists in 1,176 minutes) and Elizabeth Eddy (3 goals, 2 assists in 622 minutes) also haven’t locked in starting positions.
Among regulars in the Western New York eleven are U.S. international Samantha Mewis (3 goals, 3 assists), fellow midfielder Becky Edwards (2 goals, 3 assists), striker Jasmyne Spencer, rookie Abby Dahlkemper, and defenders Brittany Taylor and Jaelene Hinkle.
While Flash superstar Sydney Leroux will miss the rest of the NWSL season due to right ankle surgery, defender and fellow U.S. international Whitney Engen went the distance in last week’s meeting with Chicago and is expected to do so again. The same applies to three more 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup champions, the Red Stars’ Johnston, Lori Chalupny and Christen Press (8 goals, 1 assist in just 9 games).
“Western New York is a good transition team with a lot of pace up top, and their field is a little bigger than most,” said Johnston. “All of that makes it even more important for us to keep the ball and control the game. That’s been a major focus for us, along with just being smart throughout the entire ninety minutes and tidying up a few other things.”
In addition to Stars and Stripes standout Press, the Chicago roster features several other talented attackers, such as rookie Huerta (6 goals, 3 assists), team assists leader Vanessa DiBernardo (2 goals, 5 assists) and striker Jen Hoy (3 goals, 4 assists), who came off the bench against the Flash on Sunday. Meanwhile, the Red Stars defense is likely to once again feature veteran Taryn Hemmings alongside two first-year professionals, holding midfielder Danielle Colaprico and outside back Arin Gilliland.
“We have expectations of how we want to play, and we’ve been using the past few games to try and work toward that,” offered reigning NWSL Rookie of the Year Johnston. “I’d say we’ve seen some things that are good and some that we need to work on. The goal is to figure it all out in these last two regular season games so we can become the team that we wanted to be when we first started the year.”
The Chicago Red Stars will battle for playoff positioning when they hit the road for their rematch with Western New York Flash on Saturday, August 29. The club will be hosting a watch party for the clash at A.J. Hudson’s Public House together with supporters group Chicago Local 134. The Red Stars’ massive Fan Appreciation Night and regular season finale is on September 6 at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, as Julie Johnston and company host fellow superstar Carli Lloyd and Houston Dash. Tickets may be purchased by calling 773-698-6001 or by clicking here.