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Look to extend unbeaten run to three, reclaim playoff spot with win

By Gunnar Berndt

Chicago, Ill. – After a 1-1 home draw with Houston Dash, in which the Chicago Red Stars failed to build on an early lead despite several more close looks, Head Coach Rory Dames’ squad looks to go unbeaten in three when it hosts defending National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) champs FC Kansas City on Saturday. Red Stars veteran Vanessa DiBernardo reflected on her side’s recent troubles with finishing and looked ahead to the weekend’s clash with an opponent that has shown some promise of late, amid an overall challenging campaign.

Fifth-place Chicago takes on eighth-place FCKC on July 30 at 7 p.m. CT, with livestreams available here (English) and here (Spanish). Immediately following the clash at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, the Red Stars will be retiring the number 17 jersey of former captain and club icon Lori Chalupny, a 2008 Olympic gold medalist and 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup champion with the United States. Chalupny’s will be the first jersey number ever retired by her NWSL outfit.

In the matchup with the Dash, midfielder Danielle Colaprico put Chicago on the board in only the second minute, courtesy of a deflected shot off an assist by DiBernardo. The latter subsequently had several chances to double the advantage, on one occasion hitting the crossbar from long range and later seeing her blast from inside the area cleared off the line. Instead of the hosts putting the game out of reach, Rachel Daly tallied at the other end in the 82nd minute, equalizing on Houston’s first quality opportunity of the contest.

Said Red Stars captain DiBernardo, “I’m the first one who can attest to the fact that we had a ton of chances and should have put one away to seal the deal. Instead, we gave up an extremely poor goal in the final ten minutes because we didn’t manage the lead the way we know we can. That said, credit to (the Dash) for creating the attack and capitalizing on it. It was a good reminder that we’re a very young team with a lot to learn. I’d rather have this learning experience now than late in the season or in the playoffs.”

A common theme for 6-4-4 Chicago in recent weeks has been a tendency to miss chances at key moments. Midfielder DiBernardo expressed her belief that it’s within her side’s control to turn the trend around.

“It’s not bad luck,” she offered. “We’re putting ourselves in good positions but fail to convert. For a while we were struggling to get opportunities. Now we’re getting opportunities, which is the first step to fixing the problem. We just need to be more clinical in our finishes. In training these past few weeks, we’ve done more offensive work around the goal. Hopefully that will help us get to where we need to be. Once we get multiple goals in one game, I’m confident they’ll keep coming.”

In addition to DiBernardo (4 assists), fellow midfielder Danielle Colaprico (1 goal, 2 assists) will be tasked with generating offense, as will be midfielder-forward Sofia Huerta (3 goals, 1 assist) and forward Jen Hoy (2 goals). Fifth-year Red Stars attacker Alyssa Mautz (2 assists) has provided a spark off the bench in recent weeks. Meanwhile, the backline is expected to again feature Casey Short (tied for 3rd on team with 2 goals), Arin Gilliland and Samantha Johnson. With the Rio Olympics around the corner, the Chicago roster will be missing U.S. aces Alyssa Naeher, Julie Johnston and Christen Press.

At 4-6-4, FC Kansas City has been hit hard this year by the absences of U.S. strikers Amy Rodriguez and Sydney Leroux due to pregnancy. What is more, the club, which earned road wins over title contenders Portland and Western New York in two of its last three games, has lost three potential starters to the Olympics, Canadian Desiree Scott, American standout Becky Sauerbrunn, and New Zealand defender Katie Bowen.

Head Coach Vlatko Andonovski’s team boasts a quintet of players with Stars and Stripes experience in goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart, defenders Yael Averbuch (2nd on team with 2 goals) and Brittany Taylor, and the potent midfield duo of Erika Tymrak (1 goal, 2 assists) and American legend Heather O’Reilly. Playing alongside the ever-consistent Mandy Laddish, Tymrak and O’Reilly look to feed balls into 2016 revelation Shea Groom (tied for 2nd in NWSL with 6 goals) and long-time super sub Tiffany McCarty (3 assists), who is currently riding a streak of four consecutive starts up top.

The Red Stars faced off with FCKC for the first time this year on May 13, posting a scoreless draw away from home.

“Having already played them this season, we have an idea of what to expect,” said Chicagoland native DiBernardo in concluding her remarks. “They’re a very dangerous team with a lot of offensive weapons, so staying organized defensively as a group will be a crucial. I don’t think the Olympic call-ups give either team an advantage. Obviously internationals being gone has an effect since those players are huge parts of their teams, but we really can’t get distracted by that. All we can do is come up with a game plan for who is actually there. Hopefully that will allow us to get three points.”

DiBernardo and company host defending champs FC Kansas City on July 30. Tickets for the 2016 NWSL campaign at Toyota Park in Bridgeview may be purchased by clicking here or by calling 773-697-8699.

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