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September 9, 2016

Chicago Looks to Punch Playoff Ticket in FCKC Rematch

Eager to bounce back after Wednesday’s home defeat to reigning NWSL champs

By Gunnar Berndt

Chicago, Ill. – If the Chicago Red Stars are able to find a silver lining in Wednesday’s disappointing 3-2 home defeat to FC Kansas City, it might be that they have an immediate chance to bounce back when they hit the road for the rematch at Swope Soccer Village this coming Sunday. While FCKC is mathematically eliminated from playoff contention despite the recent victory, a Red Stars win or draw against their Midwest rivals would see Head Coach Rory Dames’ squad punch its 2016 postseason ticket.

Fourth-place Chicago takes on seventh-place Kansas City on September 11 at 5 p.m. CT, with the action being streamed live here.

Wednesday’s meeting came three days after the Red Stars battled back from two goals down to earn a 2-2 draw with visiting Seattle Reign FC. Against FCKC, the squad around captain and U.S. ace Christen Press controlled most of the play and created the majority of quality looks, only for Casey Short and Press to find the woodwork in the opening stages and for the opposition to ruthlessly pounce on most of its own promising chances.

Left back Short’s unlucky miss in the seventh minute was especially agonizing for the home side and its fans, as Kansas City wasted no time in picking up the ball and quickly moving it down the field for the first of two strikes by Shea Groom. The forward’s teammate Frances Silva also found the net in the second half.

“We were definitely disappointed with the result,” said Chicago’s Short, who already has two tallies on the season. “Hitting a couple of posts early on is frustrating by itself, but the fact they countered us after my shot and scored right away made it that much worse. Countering is one of the things we knew they’re very good at, so giving up a goal like that was pretty upsetting.

“Generally speaking, we’re not happy with giving up five goals in the last two games. That’s uncharacteristic of us and it’s important that we fix it and have a good response in the rematch. I think that’s definitely doable. Two of the goals we gave up against KC were due to questionable box defending, which (Head Coach) Rory (Dames) has mentioned is going to be a major focus going forward.”

However, it wasn’t all doom and gloom for the Red Stars in the clash with the reigning NWSL champs. For the third time in a row, the club from the Windy City scored two goals or more, with Press and Sofia Huerta each extending their respective scoring streaks to three matches.

Said Short, “The obvious positive is that we created a lot of of chances, which has been the case in the past few games. I think that’s because our attackers have really started to click and not because we’ve shifted our focus away from defending. After all, it’s not like teams have been breaking us down with their passing. Our defensive problems have had more to do with mental lapses in marking, which should be an easy fix if we’re determined to address it.”

The Red Stars’ first opportunity to do so will be in Sunday’s away clash with Kansas City, which can be expected to feature Red, White and Blue center back Becky Sauerbrunn and veteran Brittany Taylor in front of ex-U.S. goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart. While the FCKC midfield is likely to again boast American legend Heather O’Reilly alongside Canada regular Desiree Scott and another player with U.S. experience, Yael Averbuch (3 goals), the forward pool includes team top scorer Groom (tied for 2nd in NWSL with 8 goals) and Maryland native Tiffany McCarty (1 goal, 4 assists).

The Chicago defense features a pair of Stars and Stripes aces of its own in goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher and center back Julie Johnston, who should line up alongside the reliable Short (tied for 3rd on team with 2 goals) and Arin Gilliland, with Samantha Johnson questionable after taking a knock in Wednesday’s game. On the attack, the Red Stars have relied on midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo (tied for 2nd in NWSL with 6 assists) to set up red-hot strikers Press (leads team with 7 goals) and Huerta (6 goals, 1 assist) as well as recent acquisition and U.S. international Stephanie McCaffrey (2 goals in 327 minutes for the Red Stars).

In looking ahead to the upcoming rematch against Kansas City, Chicago left back Short summarized her keys to the game before closing on a cautiously optimistic note.

“Shea Groom is definitely one that we have to watch,” she offered. “As we saw on Wednesday, she’s dangerous no matter what and can create something from a half-chance. In addition to that and to doing a better job with our marking in the box, counter-attacks are probably what we have to be most mindful of, since KC is so great at transitioning into the attack. We really can’t afford to let them have so much success with that again. If we can figure those things out, we should have a better result on Sunday and qualify for the playoffs.”

The Chicago Red Stars battle hosts FC Kansas City this coming Sunday, September 11, followed by their big Fan Appreciation Night and regular season finale against visiting NWSL leaders Washington Spirit on Saturday, September 24. Tickets to all Red Stars home matches at Toyota Park in Bridgeview may be purchased by clicking here or by calling 773-697-8699.


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