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Several players with standout performances as Chicago remains atop NWSL table

By Gunnar Berndt

Piscataway, N.J. – The Chicago Red Stars defended their spot atop the NWSL table with a dominant 3-0 away win over Sky Blue FC on Sunday night. Vanessa DiBernardo, Jen Hoy and Alyssa Mautz all scored for the visitors, forward Hoy adding an assist on Mautz’ second-half tally. The match also featured a pair of assists by 22-year-old Huerta and outstanding play by defender Abby Erceg, who made her return to the lineup after captaining New Zealand in the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Chicago goalkeeper Michele Dalton earned her third clean sheet of the season behind an all-around solid performance.

The Red Stars grabbed the lead in the sixth minute of play. Huerta streaked into the box on the left and battled to maintain possession before smartly centering to DiBernardo, who calmly side-footed past goalkeeper Brittany Cameron for the opening strike. Sky Blue FC had an opportunity to level the score a mere four minutes later, but Shawna Gordon’s left-footed blast from the top of the area whistled just over the frame.

After three excellent defensive plays in a row by Chicago’s Erceg, the 25-year-old center back was in the right spot again to get her foot on a 21st-minute cross from the right by Sky Blue FC’s Meg Morris. However, the interception fell right to Katie Freels, who nearly pounced on the opportunity with a left-footed rocket that rattled the crossbar.

The home side had another chance to tie the match at the half-hour mark, as Taylor Lytle was in on goal on a beautiful through ball from deep inside her own half, only to be slowed down and forced wide by agile Red Stars wing back Arin Gilliland. While the rookie’s hustle allowed Erceg and Samantha Johnson to recover, Lytle managed to get off a shot nonetheless, firing across goal and just wide of the far post from the left side of the area.

Chicago ruthlessly punished their opponents for the missed opportunities in the 34th minute, a beautiful combination play doubling the lead for Head Coach Rory Dames’ side. Rachel Quon took full advantage of a breakaway by releasing Huerta down the center and the rookie sensation unselfishly slid the ball through to Hoy for a simple tap-in from the doorstep.

Sky Blue FC started off the second half on the right foot, as Freels put Danish international Nadia Nadim through on goal, but Red Stars netminder Michele Dalton left her feet for an outstanding block on the powerful driven effort. That set the stage for Chicago to seal the deal just after the hour mark, as Danielle Colaprico’s long ball into the attack had Hoy entering the box with time on her hands and picking out Mautz for a right-footed shot that took a slight deflection and trickled inside the left upright.

In the 66th minute of the contest, Huerta nearly added a fourth for her squad when she capitalized on some indecisive defending by toe-poking the ball away from Maya Hayes and on frame to force a diving stop by Cameron.

Idaho native Huerta continued to cause havoc in the closing stages of the match, dribbling past two defenders on the left side of the box and firing from close range, only for Cameron to produce a point-blank reaction save. The rebound fell into the path of Rachel Quon, whose low attempt on frame forced another diving save from the Sky Blue FC goalkeeper.

After Lytle had a chance to pull one back for the hosts, her powerful shot from the top of the penalty area whistling just over the bar, teammate Nadia Nadim nearly scored what would have been a certain candidate for Goal of the Year. On a stoppage-time corner kick from the right, the striker tracked back to meet the ball near the edge of the box and smashed it off the crossbar by way of a spectacular bicycle kick. It would be the final opportunity of the night, as Chicago held on for its fifth victory of 2015.

The NWSL-leading Chicago Red Stars look to make it consecutive wins when they travel to take on Houston Dash on July 12. The team’s next home game is a July 18 meeting with Boston Breakers at Benedictine University in Lisle. Single-game and season tickets for the 2015 Red Stars campaign may be purchased by calling 773-698-6001 or by visiting www.chicagoredstars.com/tickets.

Chicago Red Stars at Sky Blue FC 3-0
Venue: Yurcak Field, Piscataway, NJ
Scheduled kickoff time: 5 p.m. CT

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

Sky Blue FC starting lineup:
Cameron (C), Hayes, Grubka, Cutshall, Levin, Gordon, Freels, Lytle, Haagsma, Morris, Nadim

Goals: DiBernardo CRS 6’ (Huerta) – Hoy CRS 34’ (Huerta) – Mautz CRS (Hoy) 62’

Cautions/Ejections: None

Red Stars substitutions:
Lomnicki in for Quon 88’
Walls in for Hoy 90’

Sky Blue FC substitutions:
Stanton in for Morris 46’
Pratt in for Hayes 70’
Goodson in for Gordon 75’

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