Club’s eight World Cup stars will be honored prior to kickoff
By Gunnar Berndt
Chicago, Ill. – Chicagoland has been abuzz with excitement in recent weeks for the Red Stars’ clash with visiting Boston Breakers this coming Saturday, which will see all eight of the club’s FIFA Women’s World Cup stars honored before the opening whistle. Amidst the celebratory mood, the NWSL leaders’ coaches and players cautioned against underestimating a Breakers side which has lost three straight but previously showed its potential over the course of a four-game unbeaten streak.
The rivalry between the two teams dates back to 2009, when they first faced each other in the WPS league. Since then, fans have witnessed many more intense battles, including several in the WPSL Elite and the NWSL. Kickoff for Saturday’s sold out edition is 7 p.m. CT, with all the action streamed live here. Radio broadcasts are available in English via the “Listen Live” button right here and in Spanish here.
“Boston is a good team that will definitely put up a good fight and present a challenge for us,” said Chicago forward Jen Hoy, who bagged a goal and an assist in last week’s 2-1 away win at Houston Dash. “That said, we really try to focus on us and not necessarily on their specifics. We’ll be watching some film on them, but primarily it’s all about making sure we’re organized defensively and that our attacking game continues to improve.
“All of us are excited to be back at full strength and hopefully have our full team healthy and ready to go. The national team players will definitely raise the level of play in our practices and games, which we will all benefit from. It’s a very exciting time for us.”
In addition to American World Cup winners Julie Johnston, Christen Press, Lori Chalupny and Shannon Boxx, the Red Stars’ Canadian trio of Karina LeBlanc, Melissa Tancredi and Adriana Leon, and New Zealand captain Abby Erceg all competed for soccer’s most prestigious trophy.
Chicago defeated Head Coach Tom Durkin’s Boston 3-0 in the teams’ first meeting of the season, a May 9 match that saw several rookies and first-year NWSL players come up big in the absence of the internationals. While Sofia Huerta led the pack with her first two goals and first assist as a pro, Cara Walls also found the net for the first time, Arin Gilliland bagged her first ever career assist, and goalkeeper Michele Dalton earned her first shutout in her league debut.
“We found a good rhythm in the second half and managed to do some of the things we had been working on,” offered Red Stars Head Coach Rory Dames. “I also think that we caught them on the back foot a little bit and were able to capitalize on that. Tom has done a good job with them since. They’ve been playing much better than they were then and have found some success. As with every game in this league, we’re ready for a battle and hoping to come out on top.”
After losing to Chicago in early May, the Breakers seemed well on their way to an impressive resurgence, as their four-game unbeaten streak included 1-0 victories over Portland Thorns FC and defending champs FC Kansas City as well as a 1-1 road draw with high-flying Washington Spirit. However, the strong run of form was not to last, Boston subsequently falling at home to Seattle Reign FC, Western New York Flash and FCKC.
When asked whether the Breakers might be better equipped to handle the Red Stars up-and-comers this time around, Chicago Head Coach Dames downplayed the significance of the surprise factor in the win earlier this year.
“Our first-year players stepped up to the forefront in that game, but they’ve stayed there even though everybody we’ve played since was aware and had time to do homework on them,” he said. “The fact our girls have continued to do well speaks to their quality. I think Boston may prepare a little differently now than they did then, but our players’ abilities don’t change because of that. We just have to find a way to bring out their strengths based on how the game plays out.”
Boston features several dangerous weapons of its own, including U-23 USWNT ace Stephanie McCaffrey, who has trained with the senior Stars and Stripes squad. The striker could have ended up in Chicago this year, as she was taken by the Red Stars at number five in the 2015 NWSL College Draft and traded back to her home state for the number nine and eleven picks, which were then used to select Danielle Colaprico and Huerta.
McCaffrey is joined on the attack by American international Kristie Mewis and newly acquired Australia star Kyah Simon, who scored twice in the Matildas’ run to the World Cup quarterfinals. While the status of Breakers and U.S. goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher is unclear so shortly after her return from Canada, Chicago Head Coach Dames has made it clear his World Cup players also aren’t safe bets to feature in the starting eleven.
“Rory has stressed that the team comes first and I think we’ve all bought in,” said third-year forward Hoy in concluding her remarks. “I have no idea what our lineup will be on Saturday or what will happen going forward, but the idea is that the best players in practice will be the ones who take the field and that you have to really earn your spot day-in and day-out and in each game. I think that’s fantastic because we all want to win the championship and this approach truly helps us make each other better.”
The Chicago Red Stars will honor all eight of their World Cup participants, including their U.S. quartet, ahead of the “Welcome Home, World Cup Stars” game against Boston Breakers on July 18, which is also the club’s 2015 Pride Night event. While tickets to the fixture are sold out, great seats are still available for the August 1 home match against defending NWSL champions FC Kansas City, which will also feature all of the internationals. Single-game and season tickets for the 2015 Red Stars campaign may be purchased by calling 773-698-6001 or by clicking here.