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Gabarra, Dames discuss Friday semifinal

Spirit coach Jim Gabarra believes despite missing out on the Shield, losing to the Red Stars may have been the wakeup call his club needs.  (photo copyright EriMacPhoto for The Equalizer)

Spirit coach Jim Gabarra believes despite missing out on the Shield, losing to the Red Stars may have been the wakeup call his club needs. (photo copyright EriMacPhoto for The Equalizer)

When the Chicago Red Stars and Washington Spirit step on the field this Friday for their semifinal match in the 2016 NWSL playoffs, they will do so only six days removed from their last encounter. In that game—the final contest of the 2016 regular season—the Red Stars bested the Spirit 3-1 in front of 3,712 fans in Bridgeview, Illinois.

With the loss, the Spirit failed to secure the NWSL Shield as the team with the best regular season record and the next day the Portland Thorns took advantage of the opening to pick up three points against Sky Blue FC and win the trophy themselves.

Still, Washington head coach Jim Gabarra found an upside to the loss.

“I’m pretty happy with the number of chances we created and the amount of time we spent possessing the ball in their half,” said the coach. “Outside of a couple of transition moments, if we [had] put away our chances, we could have easily scored five goals tonight. That’s the game of soccer. It hurts not to get this win because the last few games we’ve really tried to win at all costs and it just hasn’t worked out.”

The Spirit boss also noted the loss could help Washington in this weekend’s rematch against Chicago.

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“Coming into the game, we figured we were going to be playing them again, so there’s two sides to that story,” explained Gabarra. “If we come in here and win the Shield and beat them, then you’ve got to beat a team three times in a season, so sometimes it’s good to get a little bit of a wake-up call.”

For their part, the Red Stars will head into the playoffs for the second year in a row after qualifying last year for the first time in NWSL. In the 2015 playoffs, the Red Stars secured home field advantage, but found themselves down 3-0 even before the halftime whistle against a more experienced FC Kansas City side.

Chicago head coach Rory Dames is hoping last year’s experience will help his young team this time around, but cautioned that the result this Friday in Washington won’t define the Red Stars’ season.

“We have enough of the core back that played in [last year’s semifinal] that we’ll definitely want to do better this year,” said Dames. “But, anything in this league in a one-off [match] can happen. Anybody can beat anybody. You don’t define a season being successful or not successful by if you advance.”

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The Red Stars will also enter Friday’s match with star forward Stephanie McCaffrey and goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher battling injuries. McCaffrey missed last weekend’s game with an ankle injury while Naeher dressed, but did not play. Washington, meanwhile, appears to be getting healthier at the right time with the recovery of Estafania Banini, who played 10 minutes in Saturday’s contest.

Another area to watch in Friday’s contest will be the battle between Washington attacker Crystal Dunn and Chicago’s backline. Dunn and Red Stars’ left back Casey Short engaged in an entertaining battle on the flank during much of last weekend’s match. In that clash, Short seemed to get the best of Dunn, but when the winger cut inside, she did manage to generate some chances.

Still, Dames complimented his back four in the post-game press conference and emphasized that the real battle out wide will be whether or not his outside backs can get into the attack.

“Casey was very good tonight. Arin struggled a bit in the first half coming back [from injury]—she hasn’t played in two weeks,” said Dames. “She found herself a bit better in the second half. Those [two] defensively are always going to be okay, it’s more of ‘Are they going to be able to get into the attack?”

The match on Friday (8 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1) will take place at the Maryland SoccerPlex and Gabarra thinks that might be all the advantage his team will need.

“We’re a different team when we play at home,” he said. “That’s why you try to win home field advantage in the playoffs.”


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