The Chicago Red Stars opened the 2012 season with an unseasonably warm late afternoon match last Sunday on the campus of Concordia University with a 2-0 victory over FC Indiana. The Lionesses played two games prior to Sunday’s matchup, falling 4-1 to both the Western New York Flash and the Boston Breakers. Fans who braved the heat at Concordia University in were rewarded as the Red Stars opened their season with a win.
The Red Stars’ starting lineup featured many familiar faces from the 2011 squad. Samantha Scofield and Michelle Wenino held the back line along with veteran Red Stars goalkeeper Jamie Forbes. Returnees Elise Addis and Michele Weissenhofer started in the midfield and up top, respectively. Sunday also saw former WPS stars Jen Buczkowski, Alyssa Mautz, Julianne Sitch, Lauren Fowlkes, and team captain Lori Chalupny take the field. Lauren Alkek, previously of the Bay Area Breeze, saw her first minutes as a Red Stars starting defender.
The Red Stars held possession for the majority of an often-physical game, punctuated by injury stoppages. Midfielder Julianne Sitch praised the team’s possession throughout the run of play.
“I think we did a good job keeping the ball, and being patient,” she said. “We were able to create some chances and turned them into a goal just being patient, and taking the opportunities that we had.”
Although the Red Stars outshot their opponent 14-2, several breakaways placed FC Indiana in scoring range in the first half. Most notable was a one-on-one with goalkeeper Forbes in the 10th minute that saw the Lionesses narrowly miss a chance to gain an early lead.
The Red Stars responded with several strong offensive opportunities. Fowlkes had two tough plays, colliding with the FC Indiana goalkeeper after a cross from Wenino in minute 37, followed two minutes later by a header in the box saved by Indiana. Although it seemed that the two teams would go into the half scoreless, a late play changed the tone of the game. Two minutes into stoppage time, Sitch one-timed a ball from Chalupny to put the Red Stars up 1-0.
“I just saw that Chups had the ball, and Chups is such a great player that I knew if I made it down line she’s good enough to get me the ball anywhere,” Sitch said. “So I just made the run and she played the ball in and, I mean, it’s every player’s dream to get a volley.”
The second half saw increased intensity from both teams and a flurry of activity from the Red Stars’ offense. Chalupny tallied several shots in the half, including a quick turn and close-range shot in minute 61, which was saved by Indiana. The Red Stars’ second goal of the match came in the final three minutes of the game. After Weissenhofer was taken down in the box, Fowlkes stepped up to score on a penalty kick.
Head coach Rory Dames felt his team’s play improved as they navigated a highly defense-minded opponent. Dames expects his team to progress significantly in the next month.
“I feel like it was their third game, and our first game, and that showed a little bit,” he said. “I thought we got better as the game went on. You know, they sat very deep. So basically the question they asked of us was ‘Are you good enough to break us down in the final 30?’ And quite honestly, the answer is no. I think it’s going to take us until probably towards the end of June to really find our stride and get going and everything where it needs to be.”
Specifically, the team will work on building cohesion and creative play moving forward.
“A lot of players haven’t played the style or the shape we’re trying to play out of,” Danes said. “And we want to give them a lot of freedom in the attack to move in different spots and interchange and be creative. So the biggest thing we’re focusing on for the next two or three weeks is to get them untrained from what they used to do and to have some new ideas and take some chances and be creative and be willing to take some risk.”
Although the Red Stars plan to work on integrative play, Sunday’s teamwork between Sitch and Chalupny netted the Red Stars’ first goal of the 2012 season, and is a combination fans can expect to see in action throughout the season. Sitch says her experience playing with Chalupny on the 2011 Atlanta Beat has carried over into WPSL Elite.
“We know each other, and just are able to combine with each other and look for each other. I love playing with her,” Sitch said.
The Red Stars will travel to South Bend to take on FC Indiana again this Friday. They will then contend with the Boston Breakers in a June 3rd home match at North Central College.
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