Toyota Park a Lucky Place for Chicago Red Stars

Toyota Park a Lucky Place for Chicago Red Stars
Chicago Red Stars captain Lori Chalupny (left) and Julie Johnston help the US Women capture the World Cup over the summer

From 2009-2010, the Chicago Red Stars women's professional soccer team called Toyota Park home.  In 2012, they returned to the Bridgeview, Illinois facility to win the National Women's Cup Final.

Five seasons after they first stepped into Toyota Park, the Red Stars returned home in a special anniversary celebration, a first-ever doubleheader match with the Chicago Fire, their soccer brothers of the MLS. It marked the first doubleheader of any NWSL/MLS team ever played.

It turned out to be a lucky homecoming indeed.

With no Abby Wambach, out with a fractured orbital bone suffered in the US Women's National Team matchup on April 10, the Chicago Red Stars kicked off their 2014 National Women’s Soccer League season with a 1-0 win over the Flash at Toyota Park in front of a crowd of 15,743.

The Red Stars' evening win followed the Chicago Fire's 1-1 draw with the New England Revolution.

Minutes after the Red Stars' win, they tweeted out thanks to their 'brothers' and 'fans:'

"Thanks to all our fans for joining us at @toyotapark for our #NWSL 2014 Home Opener! Shout out to the @ChicagoFire for a great 1st game."

The lone goal of the evening came in the 59th minute of play from Red Stars defender Julie Johnston, off a corner kick from Naperville, Illinois, native Vanessa DiBernardo.

“It took us a bit to settle in, and the Flash is not an easy team to solve,” said Red Stars Head Coach Rory Dames. “ But I think it was a good outing for us. I’m pleased with our younger players and I’m obviously pleased with the outcome."

In the first 45 minutes, the Red Stars went head to head with Western New York Flash, with both teams possessing the ball equally.

When asked if playing without Wambach made a difference, Dames said, "When Abby plays, the game becomes more one-dimensional. (She) brings size, strength, Her chemistry with (fellow USNT) player Carli Lloyd is amazing, and they play off of each other.

The Red Stars were only able to get two shots on goal, with their best opportunity coming in the 35 th minute when Julie Johnston sent a ball over the crossbar off of a corner kick from Vanessa DiBernardo.

This same play would result in the team’s game-winning goal in the second half. The Flash challenged the Red Stars, taking 3 shots on goal and pressuring hard during the final minutes of the half. Flash midfielder Carli Lloyd was booked in the 43 rd minute with a yellow card after taking down DiBernardo.

The Red Stars began the second half with a lineup change, subbing in Zakiya Bywaters for forward Adriana Leon. Both teams struggled to find their rhythm for the first few minutes, but the Red Stars picked up their momentum after a series of combination plays from team captain Lori Chalupny, forward Zakiya Bywaters and midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo.

In the 59 th minute of play DiBernardo stepped up to take Chicago’s only corner of the half, and connected with defender Julie Johnston who headed the ball past Flash keeper Lydia Williams. The Flash fought back with quality balls from defender and team captain Brittany Taylor, but in the end, the Red Stars held on to the lead, and earned three points on the night.

“It was so great to kick off this season with a win,” said Red Stars defender Julie Johnston. “It was exciting to step out onto the field tonight for my first professional match. The atmosphere here at Toyota Park was great.”

The Red Stars are seeking host families for some of their players this season.  Information can be found on their website, www.chicagoredstars.com.

They return to their home stadium, the Village of Lisle Benedictine University Sports Complex on Saturday, April 26, taking on the Washington Spirit at 7 pm.

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