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Chicago Red Stars eyeing playoffs
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times

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Rory Dames, head coach of the Chicago Red Stars women's professional soccer team, is excited about the team's offense for the 2014 campaign, which kicks off April 19 when the Western New York Flash come to town for the season and home opener.

Dames said the team's offense looks dynamic, athletic and exciting in one-on-one drills.

The offense also is "really unsophisticated right now," he added.

"There's a ton of talent, a ton of potential; they just need some time and experience," he said.

But go-time is here for the popular crew of kickers as the Red Stars brace for the team's sixth season and its second in the National Women's Soccer League ( NWSL ), a nine-team league featuring defending champion Portland, FC Kansas City and the Seattle Reign FC, among other powers for 2014.

Chicago finished 8-8-6 last season, which was sixth place among eight.

"[In] the second half of the [2013] season, we really prided ourselves on being a team built around Chicago and the image of Chicago: blue-collar, hard-working, no superstars, just get out and find ways to be successful," Dames said. "I really hope the fans take the time to meet the players on this team because there are some talented players.

"I think we'll be exciting to watch."

Lori Chalupny was the top forward last season, with 5 goals and 4 assists—and she's back for the 2014 grind.

"Lori has been a key part of the team on any team she's ever played on," Dames said. "She's our captain, leader. How goes Lori will determine a lot of how far this team goes."

Chicago opens the season with back-to-back home games—the Flash and then the Washington Spirit on April 26. The Red Stars then play seven of their next nine games on the road. The final regular-season game is Aug. 16, when the Flash are back in Chicago. In fact, the Red Stars' final three regular-season games are at home.

All home games are played at Benedictine University Sports Complex in Lisle.

"Going on the road so much early in the season will help the team grow closer," Dames said. "One of the [good] things about being really young is, you're really naÃïve. So, regardless if we're on the road or at home, I don't think it will affect our team a whole lot either way. I'm glad we have more home games at the end of the season, though."

Despite the team's youth, Dames is optimistic that many of the Red Stars' young newcomers can contribute right away. "I think we're further along at this point [in the preseason] than we were last year at this point. We're in a better spot," he said.

"There definitely is a higher level of confidence within the group. We lost a little bit of experience with some of the players who didn't come back, but we definitely increased our overall team athleticism and probably the overall team technical ability.

"It's a young group, and you can have a lot of success with young groups, if you can get them on the same page, and can get them to buy in [to the team system] and really work for each other, similar to [the University of] Kentucky's [men's] basketball team. Or, it can be a lot of trial and error with a young team."

Dames is convinced the 2014 team will surprise many. But the season also could include a lot of rookie mistakes. "How we respond and recover from those mistakes will go a long way in our success," he said.

The Red Stars look solid in goal, with newcomer Karina LeBlanc in net. She was a member of the 2013 NWSL champion Portland Thorns and boasts an impressive international resume for her native Canada. She earned her 100th cap in 2012, the same year she claimed a bronze medal at the London Summer Olympics. LeBlanc has been a member of four World Cup teams.

"Karina has been fantastic, a great leader, a great personality, with great energy," Dames said. "She is totally engaged in the team, totally committed to what we're doing, totally focused on trying to win. She's been great.

"She uses her intelligence and experience to position the group in front of her to eliminate a lot of problems."

Chicago's defense is anchored by Michelle Wenino, Jackie Santacaterina and Rachel Quon. "We think our back line will be pretty athletic and, more importantly, be able to build [forward] from the back," Dames said.

"We're probably still a [player] or two short in there [in the midfield]. I think we're going to have to get more cover in the midfield. It's a lot to ask [the few now playing in the midfield] to play there the entire season, every minute, especially as much of a grind it is in the middle of the field."

The Red Stars were allocated U.S. National Team forward Christen Press, who will be joining the squad after her Swedish club team's Champions League run. Chicago also traded for Canadian National Team veteran Melissa Tancredi, who will be making her NWSL debut after completing chiropractic school in June.

"The beauty of the league is the parity in the league, so, on any night, anyone can beat anyone," Dames said.

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