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Chicago’s Playoff Hopes Resting on Sunday Results

Lisle, IL – The Red Stars gutted out a come-from-behind 3-3 tie against WNY Flash tonight, although it doesn’t give them the guaranteed playoff spot they would have preferred with a win. The team dug into a 3-1 hole by the 50th minute but powered through the second-half to come back in what was a wild ride to end the regular season. The Red Stars had three penalty kick opportunities on the night against the Flash who had already been eliminated from playoff contention earlier in the week. Christen Press had two goals, while Julie Johnston added the third. Adriana Martin, Carli Lloyd, and Sam Kerr scored for the Flash.

“We’re all pretty disappointed,” said Red Stars Head Coach Rory Dames. “We made some uncharacteristic mistakes in the first half. I thought the response in the second half was good and we fought our way back.”

The Red Stars started off with a really strong first 15 minutes of play and had numerous opportunities to take a multi-goal lead from the get-go, earning a corner kick in the 2nd minute of play. In the 10th minute, the Red Stars got the ball into the back of the Flash net, but after the referees had a commune on the sideline, the goal was not allowed. Defender Abby Erceg played a freekick from midfield that found Melissa Tancredi towards the left side of the box. She one-touched a perfect volley that dipped in front of the net and was scored as an own-goal by Flash midfielder McCall Zerboni. After discussion, the referee called offside on Julie Johnston who was running onto the far post, even though she did not figure in the play.

In the 13th minute, both Christen Press and Alyssa Mautz had good looks on goal but their shots went wide of net. Three minutes later Adriana Leon took a hard foul near the left sideline. The Red Stars earned a dangerous freekick. Vanessa DiBernardo played to the far post and defender Jackie Santacaterina was there to win the header. Flash midfielder Lloyd got a hand on it trying to block it out and the Red Stars earned a penalty kick. Press calmly slotted it into the left corner of the net, giving the Red Stars an early 1-0 lead.

But defensive errors would plague Chicago as the half wore on. Abby Wambach played in a cross from the left side. Rachel Quon was there to deflect it off the line, but it fell right into the path of Adriana Martin who had no trouble with the 5-yard blast from close range to put the Flash back in the game. Just before halftime, Martin took a freekick for the Flash that was headed towards goal by Wambach. Lloyd had an acrobatic backwards header that lobbed into the net to give the Flash the 2-1 lead in the 45th minute.

The Red Stars nearly tied it up off a corner kick with just seconds remaining in first-half stoppage time. DiBernardo played a cross towards the edge of the 18-yard box that found Mautz. She put her header towards the left side of goal where Johnston was waiting, but her subsequent header went out of play and the Red Stars would take a one-goal deficit into halftime.

Unfortunately for the Red Stars the Flash would pick up the second half where they left off. In the 50th minute, Sam Kerr broke down the right side of the field at speed and played a cross towards Wambach who slid to get a touch on it and play it back to Kerr, who was able to blast it in from 10 yards out.

Second half substitute, and team captain, Lori Chalupny made an immediate impact once she entered the match by causing trouble down the left side of the field. She nearly scored in the 57th minute but her shot rolled wide. In the 60th minute, DiBernardo played a beautiful pass over the top of the WNY defense to Press who went 1-on-1 with the goalkeeper. Her initial shot was blocked but Press was there to collect it and slot the ball into an open net to cut down the Flash lead to just a goal.

In the 78th minute the Red Stars earned a long free-kick after Johnston was tackled heading to goal by Zerboni. Erceg played the ball wide and Flash player had a handball on the play, giving the Red Stars another penalty kick. Once again Press would step up to take it, but this time Flash keeper DiDi Haracic came up huge making the save and keeping WNY in the lead.

The Red Stars picked up the pressure the final 15 minutes looking for not only the tying goal, but the much-needed win. As stoppage time ticked down, Chalupny worked a give-and-go with Johnston and was then pulled down in the box by Flash second-half substitute Jasmyne Spencer. Johnston was called on this time to take the penalty and she slotted it in for the Red Stars tie. In the final seconds of the match, Press blew past two Flash players to get a cross off from the endline. It was sailing towards the head of Tancredi as Flash defense tipped it out and the whistle was blown.

The Red Stars are currently tied with Washington Spirit on points at 35 total, but lost the season series to the Spirit, therefore sit in the #4 seed below them.  Portland Thorns FC are two points behind the Red Stars so must win their match against the visiting NWSL Shield winners Seattle Reign FC tomorrow. A win by Portland would give them a playoff spot and knock out the Red Stars from contention. Their match kicks off 2 p.m. PT and will be live on ESPN3.

With a Portland Thorns tie or loss, the Red Stars will retain the #4 seed and would travel to Seattle for semifinals on Sunday, August 24, at 8 p.m. PT to be aired live on ESPN2. This would be the Red Stars first playoff appearances as a professional team, after making it to two semi-professional league championships in a row in 2011 and 2012, and falling both times after overtime penalty kicks.

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