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Chicago Red Stars change in mentality plays key role in early 2019 success

Red Stars forward Katie Johnson eludes the Portland Thorns defense and dribbles up the field on April 20. (Dan Bartel/ISI Photos)

CHICAGO — At this time last year, the Chicago Red Stars had suffered a 3-2 loss to the Portland Thorns during their home debut at SeatGeek Stadium. The 2019 season is different, with the Red Stars rallying to draw Portland 4-4 during this season’s home opener. Chicago coach Rory Dames and midfielder Danielle Colaprico said a change in mentality has made the difference.

Chicago’s (0-0-2, 2 points) first two matches of 2019 pinned it up against the North Carolina Courage (1-0-1, 4 points) and Portland (1-0-1, 4 points). Both games were battles defensively and offensively, forcing the Red Stars to deal with adversity. The Red Stars responded in a different way than in 2018 thanks to a few player acquisitions and a belief in themselves.

“I think there’s been a huge mentality change from last year to this year,” Colaprico said in a phone interview Thursday. “We gave up that penalty unfortunately at the end of the [Portland] game, but it just shows how our team fights to the end and that we are able to bounce back. That’s a huge improvement from last year, whereas we maybe would have come up short-handed and lost the game. I’m glad we were able to get that point back.”

Despite a hat-trick performance on April 20 from the Canadian national team and Thorns forward Christine Sinclair, the Red Stars bounced back each time. After Sinclair’s first goal in the 16th minute, Red Stars forwards Yuki Nagasato and Sam Kerr responded with one goal each, two and four minutes later. Fast forward to Sinclair’s hat-trick goal from the penalty spot in the 87th minute, Nagasoto never gave up and executed her stoppage-time chance, tying it up at four goals.

“On my second goal, I knew someone was going to make something happen,” Nagasoto said after the game. “I knew just not to give up.”

Colaprico said the mentality change was no quick switch. The Red Stars began seeing progress at the end of the 2018 season. Although the Courage advanced after beating the Red Stars 2-0 in the semifinals, the Freehold, N.J. native said Chicago was playing great soccer and thought it deserved a better result. Ending the 2018 season a high note, according to Colaprico, is what sparked the change.

After the match against Portland and this week, Colaprico and Kerr said they believed a win was possible and deserved. So did Dames.

“We hit the crossbar during stoppage time in North Carolina, we hit the crossbar in stoppage time against Portland and I think we could easily be sitting with six points instead of two,” Dames said in a phone interview Thursday. “But, we also acknowledge that we played the best two teams from the league from last year and we’re still a work in progress, getting players healthy and piece the new players in together. The journey that we’re going to go on this year, we’re excited about.”

Dames later mentioned that first-round draft pick Tierna Davidson and Katie Johnson, who was acquired via a trade with Sky Blue FC, only made the Red Stars stronger. Although midfielder Maria Sanchez hasn’t been featured so far this season, Dames was said that the team adding pieces to each line of the squad is a positive, despite the time needed to gel. 

The journey continues as Reign FC visit the Red Stars Saturday at 7 p.m. at SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview, Ill. The Reign are coming off of a 1-1 draw with the Orlando Pride. Both teams had players unavailable for last week’s action. Women’s national team and Reign FC midfielder Megan Rapinoe did not play due to a left calf strain.

The Red Stars’ Nikki Stanton was sidelined because of a left thigh injury. Multiple players, including Colaprico were considered questionable last week, but did play 76 minutes. In addition to mentality, Dames said that health is the second key to the Red Stars’ success.

“The first thing we have to do is get healthy and the second is to be able to set into a little bit better rhythm in the games and have the ball a little bit more,” Dames said. “If we can do those things, I think the results will take care of themselves.”

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