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Head Coach Dames, ex-Thorns FC ‘keeper LeBlanc stress need to continue improving

Chicago, Illinois – Five days after the 3-2 Red Stars win over NWSL Shield holders Seattle Reign FC, fans of the club are still abuzz with excitement about the exhilarating home opener, which saw star striker Christen Press top off her stunning performance with a dramatic late winner. Meanwhile, the focus among coaches and players has shifted to Saturday’s blockbuster clash with star-studded league leaders Portland Thorns FC, who are brimming with confidence after consecutive wins to open their 2015 season.

The meeting between Chicago and Portland kicks off at 7.30 p.m. CT at Village of Lisle-Benedictine University Sports Complex and will be streamed live on YouTube and on ChicagolandSportsRadio, with the latter offering both English and Spanish-language options.

One Chicago player who is intimately familiar with the team’s next opponent is former Thorns FC goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc. The experienced Canadian international began her comments by reflecting on the match against Seattle, in which the attack produced some explosive plays while the defense allowed two goals following corner kicks.

“Whenever you win at home, that’s a great thing,” said LeBlanc. “It’s especially satisfying to get three points against a team that had the best record last year and that has the ability to get wins on the road. That said, it was the first game of the season, so there are still a lot of things we need to improve on. I don’t think there are areas where we’re exactly where we want to be.

“We’re growing as a group and creating a team identity. I think that’s all you can ask for from the first game. Hopefully in the second game we can nail down a couple more things to help define who it is we want to be.”

Red Stars Head Coach Rory Dames provided a more detailed outline of his observations from the meeting with Reign FC.

“I was very pleased with how resilient our players were in the match,” he said. “They showed a lot of grit and fought until the very end, and we were ecstatic that they were rewarded with a late goal. On the other hand, we need to be able to hold possession longer and be a bit more patient in the buildup. When the opposing team puts a lot of pressure on the ball, the key for us is to do a better job of recognizing the right moment to break that pressure and push forward.”

Red Stars and Canada shot-stopper LeBlanc, who is expected to participate in her fifth FIFA Women’s World Cup this summer, was the starter for Portland in 2013, helping the side to a much-celebrated league championship in the inaugural NWSL season.

“I loved the organization and the fans, and the opportunity to play there for a year was truly special,” said the Olympic bronze medalist. “That said, this is first and foremost another game against another great opponent and it’s about us working on the things we want to get better at every single game.”

While Thorns FC superstar Alex Morgan continues to deal with a knee injury, the visitors from Oregon also boast U.S. internationals Tobin Heath, Rachel Van Hollebeke and Allie Long, German goalkeeping giant Nadine Angerer, and legendary Canadian goal-scorer Christine Sinclair. Portland pounded Boston Breakers 4-1 on opening weekend and followed up with a 1-0 win over Western New Flash for a 2-0-0 overall record. Attacker Long has three goals to her name across both games.

“Every time you play Portland, it’s going to be a great matchup,” offered LeBlanc. “Two games into the season, it’s obviously impossible to know everything about them, but we do know they’re a great club and a very organized team on the field. We have to respect the talent they have on their roster, but we have very talented players too. It’s about finding a way to be successful against the specific system they choose to play.”

Head Coach Dames closed by providing additional insight into what challenges might await his squad on Saturday.

“Portland is very dynamic going forward,” he said. “They have midfielders who keep you on your toes by being able to make different kinds of runs at different times in the play. That makes it crucial for us to stay concentrated and continue communicating for the full 90 minutes. If we do that, I believe we have a good chance to come away with another good result.”

The Chicago Red Stars hope to make it consecutive wins to start the season when they host high-flying Portland Thorns FC this coming Saturday, April 25. Single-game and season tickets for the 2015 Red Stars campaign may be purchased by clicking here or by calling 773-698-6001.

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