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Opponent Sky Blue FC looking to leapfrog Chicago for playoff spot

By Gunnar Berndt

Chicago, Ill. – There has been an air of focus and anticipation about the Chicago Red Stars training sessions this week, as Head Coach Rory Dames’ squad returns to National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) action on Saturday, following a month-long break for the Olympic Games. With the playoffs kicking off in October, the clash between Chicago and hosts Sky Blue FC is a classic six-pointer between two sides sitting just above and just below the red line, respectively.

The fourth-place Red Stars take on their fifth-place opposition on August 27 at 6 p.m. CT, with a livestream available here.

Chicago’s 2015 NWSL Rookie of the Year Danielle Colaprico took stock of her club’s lengthy stretch without official matches, offering a mostly positive analysis.

“Overall, I think it was good for us, although it definitely has its upsides and its downsides,” she said. “At the beginning we were given a week off, which was nice and a good chance to recharge. Several players had injuries or knocks, and now we’re almost injury-free. On the other hand, there’s always a risk of losing intensity when you don’t have competitive games, which is why we had some really demanding training sessions after the week off. That’s winding down now, with the game coming up on Saturday. At this point, we’re just excited to finally get back on the field.”

The upcoming clash in New Jersey will see the return of goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, defender Julie Johnston and forward Christen Press to the Red Stars roster. The trio was part of the U.S. side that fell to Sweden on penalty kicks in the quarterfinals of the Olympics.

Said midfielder Colaprico, “We’re absolutely thrilled to have those three back because they add so much to our team and make us better. But it’s also important to remember that they were very disappointed by the loss and that it can be hard to bounce back from something like that. We’re all aware of that and understand it might take them a little while to get into a rhythm again. It’s our job to be patient, help them with the transition and make it as smooth as possible.”

Quality contributions from the internationals would certainly be welcomed by the Chicago fan base, given just how crucial Saturday’s match could be with regard to reaching the postseason as well as positioning. Having gone unbeaten and earned two wins in their three most recent fixtures, the Red Stars only trail third-place Western New York Flash by one point and second-place Portland Thorns FC by four points. However, Colaprico and company also have to be mindful of their next opponent, with Sky Blue FC looking to make up a three-point deficit on their foes from the Windy City.

It’s unclear whether Chicago’s U.S. aces will all go the distance on Saturday, with netminder Naeher arguably standing the best chance, given she served as backup in Rio. In addition to Johnston, the defense features the reliable trio of Arin Gilliland, Samantha Johnson and Casey Short (tied for 3rd on team with 2 goals), and the midfield team assist leader Vanessa DiBernardo (4) alongside second-year professional Colaprico (1 goal, 2 assists). The forwards pool includes Press (1st on team with 4 goals) and Idaho native Sofia Huerta (3 goals, 1 assist).

Meanwhile, Sky Blue FC, which has won three of its last four matches, features American legend Christie Rampone and rookie revelation Erica Skroski on defense, with the midfield boasting the attacking prowess of Taylor Lytle (1 goal, 4 assists), Sarah Killion (3 goals, 1 assist), Costa Rica international Raquel Rodriguez and Australia ace Samantha Kerr. Former U.S. regular Tasha Kai (3 goals, 1 assist) and Rookie of the Year contender Leah Galton (3 goals, 3 assists) are likely to make up the front line.

Said Red Stars midfielder Colaprico in concluding her preview of the meeting at Yurcak Field, “Sky Blue has been under the radar a bit. They are a very talented team that plays hard from start to finish, which is why it’s crucial for us to be prepared and perform for the full 90 minutes. Given it’s so late in the season and the playoffs are approaching fast, every game is extremely important now. We really think of this as a must-win.”

Chicago takes on Sky Blue FC on August 27, followed by a crucial September 4 home game against Seattle Reign FC . Tickets for the 2016 NWSL campaign at Toyota Park in Bridgeview may be purchased here or by calling 773-697-8699.

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