Collectively, we held our breath. As one, we screamed. When the last moments came, together we all mourned. Within the last two weeks, women across the world have caught footie fever. Here, however, fever comes with heartbreak. We mutter a familiar chi-town phrase “…wait till next year…” as we look forward to avenging our losses in the 2012 Olympics.
Did you know it was only last year when you could catch U.S. National team player Megan Rapino and two of Brazil’s best – Formiga and Cristiane – on the same team? Here. Right under your nose. In the same stadium as the Chicago Fire. Together, they played in the Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) against Hope Solo and Abby Wambach. Are you kicking yourself now for missing that opportunity? Now you have a second chance.
Although our Chicago Red Stars have changed over to the Women’s Premier Soccer League (WPSL) due to financial issues, the team has retained many powerhouse players. Even the casual soccer fan will be amazed when forward Michele Weissenhofer takes a throw-in. You don’t even have to know what a throw-in is to recognize, well, that just isn’t something you’d expect to see in a soccer game. She runs at the sideline and does a front handspring as graceful as a gymnast. Yet, at the same time, she chucks a soccer ball inbounds, halfway across the field. Tell me, when’s the last time you’ve seen a Laura Croft-type move in a contact sport?
On the other end of that same throw-in, you might catch defender Jackie Santacaterina teaching us all how to Wambach by heading it into the net (just like she did in their July 2nd game). It’s no wonder the two combine effortlessly, given that they began playing together in eighth grade. After their practice today, both stayed to chat about their experience as professional soccer players.
You might expect that the transition might have been difficult to go from pay-per-play to…well…just play. Weissenhofer offers a surprising perspective by stating, “For me, it’s less demanding and it’s so much more fun because you can actually enjoy the game. In WPS, you know, it’s your actual job and it’s just really nerve-wracking, and here you can just come out and have fun. We play 1,000 times better when we do that than when, you know, your head’s on the line” Santacaterina added, “It’s so much fun, because everyone’s just happy the team is back”
Don’t let their modesty fool you. These ladies (and many others on the team) either have played or currently do play for either the U.S. Under-23 or Under-20 team. “It’s fun to play for your country, put on your uniform at U23. It was a great experience. Some of the girls we played with were on the world cup this year,” admits Weissenhofer. Both then proceed to drop the names of nearly everyone on the current U.S. roster, but not in a boastful way. No – these ladies have both the skills and experience to back it up. The Chicago Red Stars are poised to win the WPSL national championship this weekend. Fighting their way to the top of 60+ teams, the Red Stars bring a 10-1-0 record to the semi-final match. If they win it all, there’s a good chance it will signal their return to the WPS.
Until next year’s Olympics, there are clearly many ways to feed our soccer frenzy. Our Chicago Red Stars have been flying under the radar for far too long. At least a few of the women who will play at this weekend’s WPSL tournament are certain to make an appearance at the 2015 World Cup. Go, relive that second chance to see a star before she becomes a household name. When you come back from Lisle, tell me – Who is your pick for the 2015 cup?
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A transplant from the snow and mountains of Upstate NY (why, yes, there IS an entire state above NYC!), Tina moved to Chicago in 2005. Since then, she’s taken full advantage of Chicago’s sports scene, participating in rugby, volleyball, and hockey – just to name a few. Her first love, however, is soccer. She's proud to have participated in both the 2006 and 2010 Gay Games as well as the 2009 Out Games. In addition to sports, Tina enjoys traveling (she tries to cross the atlantic at least once a year). Tina is a ‘Jackie of all trades’, so prepare for the unexpected!