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Despite record, Red Stars pleased with start

Rory Dames's Red Stars have lost two of their first three. But the coach says they're right on schedule.

Rory Dames’s Red Stars have lost two of their first three. But the coach says they’re right on schedule.

Looking at the National Women’s Soccer League table heading into Week 4, it would be tough to tell that many pundits tagged the Chicago Red Stars as the preseason favorites to win the league.

After all, three games into the season, the Red Stars sit in seventh place with a 1-2-0 record and only three points to their name.

However, head coach Rory Dames insists his team is exactly where he thought it would be at this early stage of the season and has pointed to a series of unique circumstances to explain Chicago’s slow start.

In Houston for their opening match, the Red Stars dealt with 80-degree temperatures after a preseason spent in Chicago’s cold spring, and despite controlling long stretches of the match, faded in the heat and eventually lost 2-0.

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After a win at home against Kansas City in their second contest, Chicago then went on the road again and lost a tough 1-0 match in Week 3 to Portland. The Thorns’ lone goal in the contest came on a penalty when Christen Press was called for a handball in the area. Dames thought the decision particularly harsh considering no call was given just moments earlier when Thorns’ goalkeeper Adrianna Franch appeared to take Press out on the other end of the pitch.

“I don’t think Christen could have gotten [her hand] out of the way of the ball. I think you can make an argument for and against giving that penalty kick, but if you give that, you have to give the one where Christen got wrapped up [by Franch] three minutes earlier,” the coach told The Equalizer. “There has to be some sort of consistency.”

Dames also praised his side’s effort in the contest and explained that Chicago is creating chances, just not finishing them.

“We’re just not ruthless enough around the other team’s goal yet,” said the coach. “We’re not where we need to be, but we’ll get there.”

Dames added that the Red Stars just need a little more patience and composure in the final third and that the team appears driven in training this week.

“The response of the group has been great. They’re more motivated now to get back on the field.”

After the team’s Week 1 loss to Houston, Chicago readjusted its lineup, pushing Julie Ertz out of the backline and into the attacking center midfield position. The move paid dividends against FC Kansas City with Ertz scoring the lone goal in the contest. However, that also forced Dames to drop a forward as Press vacated the No. 10 position and resumed her normal duties up top. Against both Kansas City and Portland, the coach paired Press with veteran Jen Hoy and dropped Stephanie McCaffrey to the bench.

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Dames pointed to Hoy’s sharpness in training, her passing and her on-field connection with Press in choosing her over McCaffrey. “When Jen’s in-form and dynamic, she’s a great pairing with Christen and they’re obviously the most familiar with each other,” said Dames.

Despite Chicago’s slow start, the new center back pairing of Katie Naughton and Sam Johnson has proved to be an early bright spot for the Red Stars. With Ertz pushed into the midfield, Dames has called on Naughton to fill the void and the Johnson-Naughton combination has now gone two straight games without giving up a goal in the run of play.

The coach emphasized Johnson’s development this season as key to the team’s defensive stoutness.

“Without question, this is the best Sam’s played since we’ve had her and [she’s] playing with more confidence and a little bit of a chip on her shoulder to prove some people wrong.”

Johnson did pickup a knock against the Thorns, forcing the Red Stars to sub her out of the contest in the second half. Dames said it’s “50-50” whether or not she’ll play this weekend against Houston, a rematch of their opening day game.

The match is Lifetime’s Game of the Week with kickoff on Saturday at 4 p.m. ET.


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