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Head Coach Dames, midfielder DiBernardo preview season opener against Seattle

Chicago, Illinois – There’s a buzz about the Chicagoland soccer scene these days, as fans of the beautiful game in the area have been eagerly anticipating Saturday’s Red Stars home opener against mighty Seattle Reign FC. Chicago Head Coach Rory Dames and starting midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo expressed their respect for the current NWSL Shield holders while striking an overall optimistic note ahead of Saturday’s blockbuster clash.

DiBernardo began her comments by focusing on the Reign’s formidable defense, which allowed just 20 goals in the 2014 regular season, fewer than any other team in the league.

“They’re very good in transition and their back four is very organized and attuned to each other,” said the 22-year-old Illinois native. “That makes it very difficult to score against them. The upside is that we know what to expect since they’ve kept a lot of the players from last season. Hopefully that can help us find a way to break through.”

DiBernardo’s comments were echoed by Head Coach Dames, who went on to provide a more general analysis of the team which dominated in 2014, finishing the regular season in first place and with 14 more points than second-place and eventual NWSL champions FC Kansas City. The Red Stars were one of the few sides which held their own against the Reign last year, battling them to a 1-1-1 series split and ending their opponents’ record 16-game unbeaten run with a hard-fought 1-0 home win on June 12.

“I think (Seattle Head Coach) Laura (Harvey) does a great job with her team,” said Dames. “Their back four is very solid, doesn’t make a lot of mistakes and is very good at building up plays. As an opponent, you have to be very patient when they have the ball. That’s complemented by an extremely potent attack, which makes Seattle an all-around difficult team to play. Even if you can break them down and create a chance, you still have to beat (U.S. international goalkeeper) Hope (Solo), which is never easy.

“That said, we like playing Seattle and feel that we match up with them fairly well. We’ve had some good games against them, especially last year, so we look forward to getting another chance on Saturday.”

Following the departure of star striker Sydney Leroux, the Reign FC attack is led by 2014 NWSL MVP Kim Little, Welsh midfield ace Jess Fishlock and U.S. Women’s National Team standout Megan Rapinoe, whose hat trick on opening weekend powered a 5-1 drubbing of Western New York Flash.

“Seattle is very good on the ball and can come at you with many different weapons,” said Chicago midfielder DiBernardo. “In defending as a team, we have to always be aware of that and make sure we focus on remembering what we know about their players’ tendencies.”

Dames agreed with his second-year player, offering a detailed analysis of the Reign’s three field players whose performance on Saturday will likely be crucial to whether or not the Red Stars start off their season on the right foot.

“Fishlock and Little are special players who are very sophisticated and have an excellent soccer IQ,” said the Chicago Head Coach. “Kim has the ability to get herself constantly involved in the attack and she’s very good at getting out of pressure. She can create chances for herself, play the last pass to set up a teammate, and hold up the ball to bring others into the attack.”

He continued, “Fishlock is box-to-box, sideline-to-sideline. The amount of dirty work she does and the ground she covers is extreme. Rapinoe only makes them that much more dangerous. She has shown in various environments just how good she is and how badly she can hurt you.”

Both Dames and DiBernardo finished on optimistic notes, highlighting the progress shown by the Red Stars since the NWSL’s inaugural season in 2013. Last year, Chicago was widely praised for its stingy defense and tactical discipline, which was good for the second-fewest goals conceded behind Seattle. The side missed the playoffs in heartbreaking fashion, losing out to the Washington Spirit on the head-to-head tie breaker.

“We’re a much more mobile team this year and have many different players who can fill different roles,” said U-23 U.S. international DiBernardo. “That allows us to choose our personnel and decide how we’re going to play depending on who the opponent is what they bring to the table.”

Dames echoed the midfielder’s analysis and proceeded to offer a more comprehensive outline of his squad’s progress over the course of the past two years. With international stars such as Lori Chalupny, Christen Press, Julie Johnston, Shannon Boxx, Karina LeBlanc and Abby Erceg all returning this season, Chicago also added exciting young prospects Arin Gilliland, Danielle Colaprico, Sofia Huerta and Cara Walls through the NWSL College Draft.

“In 2013, we had to work with the hand that we were dealt,” said the Red Stars Head Coach. “In 2014, we made adjustments, put a lot of work into the defensive side and took a huge step forward. The biggest change this year is that our team is a lot more dynamic and a lot more flexible in many positions. It’s important for us to do a better job of retaining the ball, because only those longer spells of possession will allow us to get numbers into the attack.

“We don’t want to lose the grit we’ve shown in the past – our ability to battle for 90 minutes and to claw our way back into games – but this year we’re really hoping to show a much more creative version of the attack. The goal is to put some really fun, entertaining and successful soccer on the field for our fans.”

The Chicago Red Stars kick off their 2015 NWSL campaign on Saturday, April 18, with their massive home opener against Hope Solo, Megan Rapinoe and current Shield holders Seattle Reign FC. Single-game and season tickets may be purchased by clicking here or by calling 773-698-6001.

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