Written by Jeff Vorva
Photo by Jeff Vorva
The Red Stars’ Danielle Colaprico jumps into the arms of a teammate after scoring a goal in the opening minutes of a 1-1 tie with Houston.
'The best team in the world' ready to make history
There doesn’t seem to be any time penciled in for the United States Olympic women’s soccer team to take in any of the historic sites in Brazil next week.
The players plan on making a little history of their own, however.
The team, which features Chicago Red Stars players Christen Press, Julie Johnston and Alyssa Naeher – will attempt to be the first U.S. team to win a World Cup title one year and follow up with a gold medal the next. Red Stars coach Rory Dames calls the US team “the best team in the world.”
The U.S. team will open Group G play on Wednesday - two days before the Olympic Opening Ceremony - against New Zealand at Mineirão Stadium in Belo Horizonte.
The USA will stay in Belo Horizonte - which is 270 miles north of Rio de Janeiro - to face France at Mineirão Stadium Aug. 6 and finish group play against Colombia on Aug. 9 at the Amazônia Stadium in Manaus, the same arena in which the U.S. Men’s National Team tied Portugal 2-2 during the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and the furthest soccer venue from Rio (more than 1,700 miles).
Then the real action starts – the medal rounds.
So, forget sightseeing.
“I would love to explore Brazil and to get to know it,” Press said. “I would love that, but this isn’t the trip for that. We probably won’t do anything. This is about trying to win a gold medal. Maybe down the line I can make a return trip and explore all of that and enjoy all of that.’’
Press scored a goal in a 4-0 friendly victory over Costa Rica Friday in Kansas City to send the team to Brazil in style. Johnston also played in the match and Naeher, the backup to Hope Solo as goalie, played the second half and kept Costa Rica off the scoreboard.
The U.S. Olympic Women’s Soccer Team has advanced to the gold medal game of every Olympic women’s soccer tournament that has been contested. The USA won the inaugural gold medal in 1996 in Athens, Ga., won silver in 2000 in Sydney, Australia, and will be going for its fourth straight gold medal after standing atop the podium in Athens, Greece in 2004, in Beijing in 2008 and in London in 2012.
Naeher joins Solo as the team’s two goalies. Johnston joins Whitney Engen, Meghan Klingenberg, Ali Krieger, Kelly O’Hara and Becky Sauerbrunn as defenders. Press joins Crystal Dunn, Lexi Morgan and 18-year-old Mallory Pugh at the forward spots. The team is rounded out by midfielders Morgan Brian, Tobin Heath, Lindsey Horan, Carli Lloyd, Allie Long and Megan Rapinoe.
Dames says he is worried about the Red Stars and hasn’t been playing too much attention to the U.S. team. But he knows his women’s soccer and what he has seen, he has been impressed with.
“They move the ball – they are super fluid and (coach Jill Ellis) has a ton of options,” Dames said. “They have the best team in the world. I don’t think anybody can debate that. But in fairness to Jill, the best team in the world doesn’t always win. She’s done a really good job of piecing all of that together.
“I hope they win. I would love to be Alylssa, Julie and Kristen come back with gold medals.’’
NEW YORK RED BULLS AT CHICAGO FIRE
WHEN: 6 p.m., Sunday
WHERE: Toyota Park, Bridgeview
FIRE RECORD: 4-10-5
NEW YORK’S RECORD: 9-9-4
LAST TIME: The Fire lost to the Red Bulls, 1-0, May 18 at Red Bull Arena. Mike Grella scored the lone goal for New York in the 58th minute and the Fire offense had 14 shots but only two were on goal.
Fire strong in Hunt Cup but still struggling on the road in MLS
When Chicago Fire coach Veljko Paunovic kept some of his most effective players home in what turned out to be a 3-1 loss at Dallas in a Major League Soccer match July 16 and proclaimed the July 20 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal game against Ft. Lauderdale a “must-win” game, it left some fans scratching their heads.
David Accam, Jonathan Campbell and goalie Sean Johnson stayed home against the MLS’s top team but Accam and Campbell played in a 3-0 victory over Ft. Lauderdale at Toyota Park in front of an announced crowd of 3,666.
But on Saturday, they couldn’t keep up the momentum from three days prior and remained winless for an MLS-record 35th road match in a 1-0 setback to New England. The team did not have a single shot on target in the setback and is a league-worst 4-10-5.
Conventional wisdom says to put your eggs in the MLS basket and treat the U.S. Open as a way to get some of the seldom-used roster guys a chance to run around and get some experience.
Unless something really strange happens in the last couple of months, the Fire’s MLS playoff chances are razor thin as the team hasn’t been very sharp in the league all season.
But that’s not what Paunovic is doing. Without publicly saying it, he likely realizes this season is a lost cause in the MLS and is trying to give his team something – anything – to feel good about.
So perhaps by putting importance on the Cup, it’s some kind of reward for a team with a new general manager, a new coach, a new system and not a lot of results to show for it.
Even though the Hunt Cup crowds have been sparse at Toyota Park, they have been entertained. In the quarterfinals, Accam scored his fourth Cup goal in three matches with a penalty kick in the fifth minute. He also found Michael de Leeuw for a goal in the 35th minute. Dubbed by some as the Lion King offense (Accam is known as King David and de Leeuw’s surname is Dutch for lion), they clicked well on that play. It looked like a tough angle to score.
"I don't think we have scored a more difficult goal all season,’’ Accam said. “For me that is a good striker, he was in a good place, most people would not be there and for him it payed off because he was in a good position."
De Leeuw, who has only been playing with the team since early July, is enjoying having the speedy Accam as a teammate.
“He is like Usain Bolt,” de Leeuw said. “You have to keep up with him.’’
Khaly Thiam scored the third goal in the second half, which allowed the Fire a berth into the semifinals at 7 p.m. Aug. 9 at New England again. The Fire is 0-2 on the road against the Revolution this season. The LA Galaxy and FC Dallas are in the other semifinal match on Aug. 10.
Since 1998, the Fire has compiled a 41-13-5 record in Open Cup play, including a 28-1-2 record in matches played in the state of Illinois, reaching the semifinal round a record 12 times and the final six times.
In the second semifinal, the LA Galaxy will host FC Dallas on Wednesday, Aug. 10. Fire was given hosting priority should they advance to their seventh final. Information on the final match will be announced once the field is set.
FC KANSAS CITY AT CHICAGO RED STARS
WHEN: 7 p.m., Saturday
WHERE: Toyota Park, Bridgeview
RED STARS RECORD: 6-4-4
KC RECORD: 4-6-4
LAST TIME: The two teams battled to a 0-0 draw May 13 in KC. It was the lone scoreless tie for the Red Stars this season.
Red Stars tie dancing Dash a day after trading for offensive threat
How do some soccer teams pass the time away during a weather delay?
The Houston Dash players used an hour-long lightning delay of the start of Saturday night’s game with the Chicago Red Stars to do a variety of things including dancing, according to Houston star Rachel Daly.
Once the game was playable, the Red Stars were dancing after a Danielle Colaprico goal in the second minute. But that was as good at it got for Chicago and Daly scored in the 82nd minute and the two teams tied, 1-1, in a National Women’s Soccer League game in front of an announced crowd of 3,621 at Toyota Park.
The Red Stars (6-4-4) had nine shots and two on target but mustered one goal against the Dash (3-7-2 with a win and a tie over the Red Stars this season).
“We were in some really good spots and made some really bad choices,” Red Stars coach Rory Dames said.
The Red Stars have scored just two goals in their last five games and on Friday the team acquired forward Stephanie McCaffrey from the Boston Breakers for their two highest second-round picks, a third-round and a fourth-round pick in the 2017 NWSL College Draft, as well as an international roster slot for 2017.
McCaffrey, a 23-year old Winchester, Massachusetts, native was selected fifth overall in the 2015 NWSL College Draft by the Red Stars before being traded to Boston in the second round. She made 19 league appearances for the Breakers in 2015, including 17 starts, scoring in her first professional match and ending the season with three goals plus three assists. She played 12 matches for the Breakers this season, starting in 10 of them and logging 921 total minutes but did not score a goal.
McCaffrey played at Boston College, earning team captain duties in her senior year along with being an All-Atlantic Coast Conference First-Team honoree on two occasions. She was also just the fourth player in program history to score 90 or more points.
“When Christen (Press, who is one of three Red Stars playing in the Olympics) isn’t here, we don’t have a forward on the team with the personality to run at defenders,” Dames said. “Steph’s mentality is just to go at you. She gives us a little bit of personality and a little bit of bite that we don’t have on the front line. I am super excited to have her whether she scores goals or not. She helps create chances and pushes lines farther back.’’
Dames wasn’t planning on using her, but after the Dash knotted the game, McCaffrey entered the game in the 85th minute and beat a defender on a play that did not result in a score.
“It’s been a hectic 48 hours,” McCaffrey said. “I was hoping to come in those last five or six minutes and try to change the game. I love this team and how upset we are to tie the game and not win. The philosophy is that nothing but winning is acceptable.’’