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Defender Short, Head Coach Dames stress need for continued progress

By Gunnar Berndt

Chicago, Ill. – Having dropped their inaugural match of the 2016 National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) campaign to Houston Dash, the Chicago Red Stars breathed a collective sigh of relief this week, following a well-deserved 1-0 win in their home opener against Western New York Flash. Head Coach Rory Dames and defender Casey Short, who had the all-important goal against the Flash, offered their analysis of the clash at Toyota Park in Bridgeview and looked ahead to the upcoming meeting with visiting expansion side Orlando Pride and superstar Alex Morgan.

The Red Stars look to make it back-to-back victories when they take on Orlando on Sunday, May 1, at 5 p.m. CT, with tickets available here or by calling 773-697-8699. The match will be streamed live in English here and in Spanish here.

The Red Stars didn’t have their full roster in camp for much of the lead-up to the away defeat at Houston, with Americans Alyssa Naeher, Julie Johnston and Christen Press involved in the national team’s pair of victories over Colombia, and Amanda DaCosta starting for Portugal in a 2017 Women’s Euro qualifying loss to Spain. In addition, few Chicago players had seen action during the NWSL offseason, the exceptions being the quartet of internationals and midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo, who had gone on loan to Australian topflight outfit Perth Glory Women.

“There’s definitely been a lot of development since preseason and even between the first game and the second game,” said outside back Short. “It’s tough not having the whole team training together, and it didn’t help that a lot of us hadn’t been in any competitive games for several months. A full week of having everyone here and trying to be on the same page has led to tremendous improvement against Western New York. Hopefully that will continue as we’re spending more time together and getting more familiar with each other.”

The assessment was echoed by Head Coach Dames, who is looking back at a challenging preseason camp, following the retirements of Lori Chalupny, Karina LeBlanc and Michelle Lomnicki as well as the departures of fellow veterans Abby Erceg, Adriana Leon, Melissa Tancredi, Rachel Quon and Taryn Hemmings.

“There were definitely improvements from game one to game two,” offered Dames, “and the biggest reason was no doubt having the entire team here to train and prepare with. After struggling against Houston, we found some good spells against Western New York. That said, we’re still a long way from where we need to be. The biggest thing is finding our identity this year because of the turnover during the offseason. It’s something we’re well aware of, and we accept that there’s work ahead in the next few weeks.”

One of Chicago’s key acquisitions during the offseason was 25-year-old Short, who hails from the area and seemed poised to take the field for her hometown club as early as in 2014, if not for a season-ending injury. After going on to earn best eleven honors in the Norwegian first division last year, the Naperville native finally logged her first minutes for the Red Stars in Houston, and she couldn’t have asked for a better home debut this past weekend. In the 28th minute of play, Short added the icing to an all-around promising individual display against the Flash when she rifled a shot inside the right post for the winner.

“The biggest thing for us was to have a response to the opening game,” said the former Florida State ace. “I didn’t even think about it being my homecoming. It just felt great to have a solid performance as a team and to put the previous week behind us by getting our first three points. Scoring was great, but a lot went into that goal from other players too, such as two excellent backheels by Sofia (Huerta) and Christen (Press), and then (Alyssa) Mautz fighting to keep the ball alive. It was a combined effort that led to the ball falling to me, and I was just so excited that I hit it well enough for it to go in.”

Dames acknowledged his side’s improved performance against the Flash, as well as Short’s role in securing victory. However, the Red Stars Head Coach’s analysis also provided evidence of how much more he believes is possible this year.

“Casey has definitely made some great strides from week one to week two,” he said. “and I thought she also got better from the start to the end of the Western New York game. But the overall speed of play here is different from what she’s used to, and she, along with most of the other players, is still working to catch up. It certainly adds to the challenge that we have lot of key pieces this year who really haven’t been in any competitive games since the 2015 playoffs.

“We know we’re behind. We know we’re not where we want to be. But the players have kept a great attitude and we had two very good weeks of training last week and this week. We need to keep that up so we can continue to move in the right direction and get everyone into form.”

In terms of preparing for Saturday’s meeting with first-year club Orlando Pride, the man in charge of Chicago isn’t too interested in adapting to an opponent that has only played two NWSL games in its history and is still very much working to find its own identity.

Said Dames, “We’ve looked at Orlando a bit, but our main concern in these next two to three weeks is really going to be on us and on how we can improve. If we don’t continue to progress as a team, it really doesn’t matter what anyone else is going to do against us. We’d have a difficult time regardless.”

With DaCosta possibly returning from injury, the midfielder would share attacking responsibilities with U.S standout Press (10 goals, 2 assists in 2015), last year’s team assists leader DiBernardo (2 goals, 5 assists) and second-year striker Huerta (6 goals, 3 assists) who threatened on numerous occasions against the Flash. Reigning NWSL Rookie of the Year Danielle Colaprico can be expected to once again distribute balls fed to her by the defense, which features Short and Stars and Stripes center back Julie Johnston. U.S. goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher will look to earn her second straight clean sheet.

Of course, all involved with Chicago are well aware of an Orlando squad that boasts plenty of big names, including Naeher’s fellow national team netminder Ashlyn Harris and a backline featuring Australia regulars Laura Alleway and Stephanie Catley, Brazil international Monica Hickman Alves, and Canada veteran Josée Bélanger. While another Canucks ace, Kaylyn Kyle, anchors the midfield, the attack is spearheaded by superstar Morgan, who recently took Player of the Match honors in a 3-1 win over Houston in the club’s inaugural home match, which was attended by an NWSL record crowd of 23,403.

Despite the quality of the opposition, Red Stars defender Short joined her Head Coach in directing the focus firmly inward.

“Obviously you look at the Orlando roster and you see a lot of really impressive talent,” said the former Boston Breakers draft pick in concluding her remarks. “That said, the biggest thing for us is staying focused on ourselves. We still have a lot of things to work on. A major part of that is continuing to build our identity and bringing the quality we know we should bring in every single game.”

The Chicago Red Stars will be battling for domestic glory all throughout 2016. Individual and season tickets for the club’s NWSL campaign at Toyota Park in Bridgeview may be purchased by clicking here or by calling 773-697-8699.

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