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Eager to get back on track following three straight losses in NWSL play

By Gunnar Berndt

Chicago, Ill. – Coming off three consecutive 2-0 losses in road games against fellow National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) title contenders, the Chicago Red Stars will be eager to get back on track when they travel to take on expansion side Orlando Pride this coming Saturday. Goalkeeper Michele Dalton provided her take on the Red Stars’ midseason funk and on what will be required of her team if it’s to return to the form it showed over the course of an eight-game unbeaten run earlier this year.

Chicago takes on hosts Orlando on July 16 at 6:30 p.m. CT, with the action being broadcast live online at www.chicagoredstars.com/live-eng.

Dalton opened her remarks by reflecting on the two most recent defeats, which came at Western New York Flash and last weekend at Washington Spirit.

“It’s not that we’re not generating offense,” said the 27-year-old. “We’re just a bit unfortunate to end up on the wrong side. Against Western New York, we created chances but weren’t able to finish, and then they scored and gained the upper hand. Washington then threw a bit of a different formation at us and we knew they have more success on set pieces. Defending those is the one thing we focused on a bit more leading up to the game, but unfortunately they did score on a corner kick, and again we didn’t take our chances.

“There’s nothing you can do when things aren’t going your way except get on the practice field, work harder, try to create even more chances and hope you can start putting them in.”

The Red Stars’ losing streak began against hosts Portland Thorns FC on June 22. Head Coach Rory Dames’ squad subsequently took on the Flash and the Spirit without its trio of American internationals, Alyssa Naeher, Julie Johnston and Christen Press, who had departed to prepare for the U.S. Women’s pair of friendlies against South Africa and Costa Rica.

Offered goalkeeper Dalton, “I don’t think our struggles are a direct result of those three being gone because it all started against Portland and they were still here for that game. Teams go through ebbs and flows throughout the season and we’re just in a difficult stretch right now. Alyssa, Julie and Christen make our team better, but we play high-quality soccer with or without them. We’re still one of the top teams in the table and aren’t getting overly concerned.

“We’ve kept working hard and have a strong desire to score and win games. Our problem has been getting unlucky on our chances and tuning out for brief moments. Because of that, we look up at the scoreboard and suddenly find ourselves losing. Going forward, if we’re down a goal, it’s crucial we do a better job of battling back and trying to equalize. Win or lose, we have to leave the field happy with our performance.”

When asked whether she was concerned her side might struggle to maintain the winning mentality it has had for much of the campaign, Dalton provided Red Stars fans with a reassuring answer ahead of the clash with an Orlando squad that has won two of its last three matches and sits in fifth place in the standings.

“Our team is absolutely intact,” said the Chicago netminder. “In training, I’ve seen a lot of fight and a lot of teammates pushing and encouraging each other. (Head Coach) Rory (Dames) stressed to us after the Washington game that we need to stay together as a group and that it’s the only way we’ll get back on track. All of us really seem to have taken that to heart and translated it onto the practice field.

“When you’re going through a tough stretch, it’s easy to blame each other, but I don’t see any of that happening here. Instead, the team has acknowledged mistakes that were made and has invested all of its energy into preventing them from ever happening again. Everyone is really trying to make each other better, as opposed to dwelling on the negatives.”

Saturday’s meeting in Florida is crucial for Dalton and company, who sit in fourth and look to prevent the Pride from leapfrogging them with a home win. While Chicago currently holds a 5-4-3 record, Orlando comes in at 6-6-0.

With Red Stars Johnston, Naeher and Press still away on U.S. duty, their club’s backline is likely to again feature the reliable trio of Casey Short (tied for 3rd on team with 2 goals), Arin Gilliland and Samantha Johnson. Midfielders Vanessa DiBernardo (3 assists), Danielle Colaprico and Alyssa Mautz (2 assists each) look to set up forwards Sofia Huerta (3 goals) and Jen Hoy (2 goals).

Meanwhile, the opposition will be without even more of its own internationals, including Americans Ashlyn Harris and Alex Morgan, Australians Laura Alleway and Stephanie Catley, Canada’s Josée Bélanger and Brazil’s Monica. Given the absences, it will be crucial for the Pride’s remaining veterans to take on additional leadership responsibilities, such as forward Jasmyne Spencer (2 goals) Kristen Edmonds (3 goals, 1 assist) and the club’s other key player with Canucks experience, fellow midfielder Kaylyn Kyle. Alongside Spencer, an opportunity will likely present itself up top for Sarah Hagen (1 goal, 1 assist).

In concluding her remarks, Red Stars shot-stopper Dalton displayed her trademark professionalism as she stressed the importance of setting the right priorities in approaching this weekend’s clash.

Said the Chicagoland native, “Orlando has done a great job and has shown that they’re a quality team, despite being an expansion club. It will also be a new experience for us playing in an unfamiliar environment and in front of a hostile crowd, but I think it’s important that we don’t get caught up in the hype but stay consistent and continue to place the emphasis on ourselves and on what we need to do. How can we score goals and defend as a group most effectively? That’s the question that really matters right now, and we need to make sure we have a good answer to it come game time.”

Dalton and Chicago take on hosts Orlando Pride this coming Saturday, July 16, followed by a highly anticipated Pride Night meeting with Houston Dash on July 23. Individual and season tickets for the 2016 campaign at Toyota Park in Bridgeview may be purchased by clicking here or by calling 773-697-8699.

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