Though there won’t be three points in any competition on the line this afternoon, Northwestern women’s soccer will have a big opportunity when the ‘Cats host the Chicago Red Stars of the National Women’s Soccer League in the marquee game of their Spring exhibition season. Today’s match at the newly renovated Lanny and Sharon Martin Stadium will begin at 5:00 and will be broadcast LIVE on 89.3 FM in the Chicago area, and online at wnursports.com worldwide.
Coming off of the most successful season in over a decade, Northwestern returns to the pitch this afternoon with a chance to gain valuable experience, as well as prepare for the upcoming season, where Northwestern will look to return to the NCAA Tournament.
The biggest losses for the Wildcats come in the midfield where both Niki Sebo and Nandi Mehta graduate, leaving a hole at the middle of the pitch for the ‘Cats. Talented freshmen Marisa Viggiano and Michele Chernesky will look to take the place of the departed playmakers, and both certainly possess the raw talented to step in and succeed.
Even with the losses in the midfield, Northwestern will still feature a strong defense, with Kayla Sharples and Hannah Davison, teammates dating back to their club days, anchoring the defense at center back. On the outside, both Kassidy Gorman and Nikia Smith will look to push forward from the fullback position. As well, Lauren Clem has proven to be a stalwart between the sticks, already posting 20 clean sheets in her 2 year college career.
Up top, Addie Steiner, who led the team with 7 goals last season, returns for her senior season with Northwestern. Steiner isn’t a prototypical nine, with size or strength to fight off defenders and score. Where Steiner excels is in collecting long balls, beating a defender or two, and slotting a shot home. Steiner is a goal-poacher in every sense of the term. Her instincts are top notch, and she always seems to find herself in the right space to pounce on loose balls and finish them.
Northwestern doesn’t play the type of soccer that will wow you, the type that you would see if you watched Real Madrid or Barcelona play, but the ‘Cats do scrap for possession, and make the most of their opportunities.
On the other side of the equation this afternoon are the Chicago Red Stars, who qualified for last season’s NWSL final, where they fell to FC Kansas City.
The Red Stars are led by two stars of the US women’s national team: defender Julie Johnston, and forward Christen Press. This offseason, Chicago also added USWNT reserve goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher to the mix. Unfortunately for fans on Sunday, all three of those players will be with the US team training in preparation for two friendlies against Colombia, rather than in Evanston.
Even without their three national team stalwarts, this Chicago team will have plenty on the pitch today to get excited about. 22-year old Danielle Colaprico, who was last season’s NWSL Rookie of the Year, will lead the Red Star attack. Colaprico’s box-to-box presence in the midfield is quite impressive, as is her service on set pieces.
Colaprico will be joined in the midfield by Vanessa DiBernardo, who made 20 appearances last season, and spent this winter playing with the Perth Glory in Australia’s W-League. In 8 games with Perth, DiBernardo found the back of the net 6 times, giving her momentum heading into the new season.
Both Colaprico and DiBernardo have featured for the US under-23 national team, and could work their way into the full national team fold in the coming years. Sofia Huerta, was a finalist for last season’s Rookie of the Year award won by her teammate Colaprico, has featured for the Mexican national team, and scored 6 times last campaign. As well, this offseason, the Red Stars added Portuguese international Amanda DaCosta, who made her debut with the Portuguese national team in a Euro 2017 qualifier, and scored 3 goals in 17 matches for the Washington Spirit last season.
With Northwestern looking to impress against a professional team, and plenty of Red Star players fighting for a roster spot, today’s match promises to have plenty of intensity, even with it being only a preseason friendly for the visitors, and a spring exhibition match for the Wildcats. If Northwestern can stay disciplined on defense, and provide Addie Steiner a chance or two to poach a goal, the ‘Cats could give the Red Stars a real challenge this afternoon. However, if Chicago’s dangerous midfielders are allowed space to make plays, the Red Stars have the talent to pick apart Northwestern’s defense and the finishers needed to score a few goals.