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Look to move closer to clinching playoff spot with win

By Gunnar Berndt

Chicago, Ill. – All of this week, the Chicago Red Stars players and coaches have been rallying around the prospect of reaching the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) playoffs for the first time in the American top flight’s three-year existence. Positivity is badly needed these days, as last Sunday’s Crystal Dunn winner in the final minute of stoppage time gave visiting Washington all three points while Chicago’s winless streak grew to five. Several of the recent results have come despite Head Coach Rory Dames’ squad scoring the opening goal.

The Red Stars look to take an important step toward punching their postseason ticket this coming Sunday, August 23, in a home match against Western New York Flash, with livestreams available in English here and in Spanish here. Radio broadcasts may be accessed in English here and in Spanish here, or via smartphone by downloading the TuneIn app and searching for “Chicagoland Sports Radio.”

Chicago is one of the two NWSL teams with the most players who participated in the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Despite their eight high-profile absences, the Red Stars were able to retain their strong early-season form and led the league for a total of ten consecutive weeks. However, just as the reintegration of the internationals at the conclusion of the World Cup looked to be going smoothly, results started to go against the club, which has now registered three draws and two defeats since July 25.

“I think a lot of it has had to do with having all the players back and trying to get used to one another again,” said U-23 U.S. midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo. “We were without so many of our players for so long, and now they’re all back, which has made things a bit different. But now that we’ve had a few weeks under our belts and have gone through the heartaches of some of the ties and losses, we’re really ready and excited to play this weekend.”

She continued, “We know that if we get one more win, there’s a great chance we’ll be in the playoffs. That has made everyone pretty optimistic. I think that once we get over the hump by getting a win, we’ll be able to relax a little bit and prepare for the rest of the season with confidence.”

How much resistance the Red Stars will face in their attempt to bag three points on Sunday depends not only on their own performance but also on which Flash side shows up for the match – the one that downed Chicago 3-1 back in June and most recently drew 1-1 away with third-place Washington, or the one that was pounded 4-0 by FC Kansas City the previous week.

While the Red Stars’ defeat to Western New York earlier this year was partly the result of a strong opposition performance, the team had also been at a significant disadvantage heading into the match, which was the fourth and final one in a series of consecutive away fixtures.

“Playing them at the end of a crazy stretch like that was definitely tough,” said midfielder DiBernardo. “They’re very athletic and we were mentally and physically drained, which made for some lapses that they capitalized on. Hopefully being better rested will help us this time around.”

Much of Western New York’s inconsistency this year can no doubt be attributed to the fact Head Coach Aaran Lines’ roster features numerous first-year players. While the club has acquired three World Cup stars over the course of the past two months in Nigerian midfielder Halimatu Aiyinde and a pair of strikers, Australian Michelle Heyman and Colombian Lady Andrade, Heyman is the only one from that group who has seen consistent playing time.

Lynn Williams (4 goals, 4 assists in 1,086 minutes) and Elizabeth Eddy (3 goals, 2 assists in 585 minutes) are the most dangerous Flash attackers relative to time spent on the field. However, neither has been guaranteed a starting spot, Eddy having made a name for herself as one of the league’s most effective offensive subs. Rising U.S. international Samantha Mewis (3 goals, 3 assists), fellow midfielder Becky Edwards (2 goals, 3 assists), forward Jasmyne Spencer, rookie Abby Dahlkemper, and the defensive duo of Brittany Taylor and Jaelene Hinkle have all been locks in Western New York’s first eleven this season.

“The new players have helped them,” offered DiBernardo. “Also, they started out the season with a very young team and a lot of those players have now grown into the league and into the new environment, so that should make them stronger. Western New York having handed us our first loss this year definitely still sits with us and makes us all the more excited to get to play them again.”

While Flash star striker Sydney Leroux will miss the rest of the NWSL season due to right ankle surgery, it’s unclear what fellow U.S. defender Whitney Engen’s status will be a mere four days after the national team’s second victory tour match against Costa Rica. The same applies to the Red Stars’ trio of 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup champions, Lori Chalupny, Christen Press (8 goals, 1 assist in just 8 games) and Julie Johnston.

Head Coach Dames has potent attacking alternatives at his disposal in rookie Sofia Huerta (6 goals, 3 assists), DiBernardo (2 goals, 5 assists) and Jen Hoy (3 goals, 4 assists). Meanwhile, the Chicago defense is likely to once again feature two more first-year professionals, holding midfielder Danielle Colaprico and outside back Arin Gilliland, as well as veteran Taryn Hemmings.

The Chicago Red Stars take on Western New York Flash this coming Sunday, August 23, presented by Athletico. The first 500 fans through the gate will receive a gift. Tickets for the 2015 campaign may be purchased by clicking here or by calling 773-698-6001.

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