Striker Press works hard for U.S. while defender Erceg captains New Zealand
St. Louis, Missouri – Three Chicago Red Stars standouts played key roles in Saturday’s U.S. Women’s National Team rout of New Zealand in front of over 35,000 in St. Louis. After Lori Chalupny bagged a beautiful tally in the scored half of her homecoming game, defender Julie Johnston also found the net to top off her superb 90-minute performance. Chicago star striker Christen Press started the match and worked hard throughout her 55-minute shift, which included two close looks on goal.
Red Stars defender and New Zealand captain Abby Erceg went the distance in the clash and earned much praise for keeping her side’s backline organized and disciplined until the floodgates opened around the hour mark.
For Chalupny, the left-footed curler she sent into the upper ninety on Megan Rapinoe’s layoff seemed to be taken straight from a book of fairytales. Less than five months ago, the 31-year-old had resigned to never playing for her country again, following a period of five years during which she was barred from doing so due to a history of head injuries.
The Chicago captain, who grew up in St. Louis, had started the game against New Zealand on the bench. After subbing in for Megan Klingenberg after the break, she took just a few minutes to send her hometown fans into a frenzy.
“This whole journey has just been crazy,” Chalupny recently said about her return to the national team. “In a short amount of time, things have come around in a really positive way for me. Winning the (FIFA Women’s) World Cup is the ultimate for any soccer player, so getting the opportunity to come back with the tournament right around the corner is exciting and a bit of a whirlwind. I’m still trying to wrap my brain around it all.”
Johnston’s story is similarly intriguing. Just a year ago, the 23-year-old was an NWSL newcomer fresh out of Santa Clara University. With consistently impressive play for the Red Stars, she earned not only the league’s 2014 Rookie of the Year award but also consistent looks by U.S. Women’s National Head Coach Jill Ellis. Until recently, Johnston was widely considered an outside shot to see much playing time in the World Cup, but she has since turned the odds completely in her favor.
During the prestigious Algarve Cup tournament in March, the Chicago defender was called upon to step up when injuries plagued the backline, and she responded in a massive way by putting in standout performances that included nodding home the game winner in the final against France. Johnston ensured it would not be a fluke by playing another dominant match yesterday and adding icing to the cake in the form of her magnificent second-half header that sailed underneath the crossbar to make it 3-0.
The Arizona native remains humble when reflecting on her success of late.
Said Johnston when recently asked what a call-up to the World Cup roster would mean to her, “Every time I get that question, I just light up because it’s so cool to even be in the mix. I can honestly say it would be my dream come true. Playing alongside some of the people I watched growing up would be spectacular. Just getting called into camp, I always feel blessed and honored to be there, and playing on the biggest stage would be truly special.”
However, before the prestigious tournament rolls around, Chicago’s international stars will kick off the NWSL campaign with their club team. After departing for the World Cup, they will then once again rejoin the Red Stars for the crucial final stretch.
“Our expectations for this season are very high,” said fan favorite Chalupny. “In the past couple of seasons we may not have had the talent some of the top teams had, but for the first time this year we’ve got the talent, so that’s not an excuse anymore. Our sights are set on not only getting into the playoffs, but we have the type of team that can win the whole thing.”
The 2015 Chicago Red Stars season kicks off on April 18 with the club’s big NWSL home opener against Hope Solo, Megan Rapinoe and current Shield holders Seattle Reign FC. Single-game and season tickets may be purchased by clicking here or by calling 773-698-6001.
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