Playing in the National Women's Soccer League semifinals is nice, but the Chicago Red Stars are ready for more.
"That's something that we're all going to be focusing on this entire year," said midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo, a three-time state champion at Waubonsie Valley High School. "Obviously, the first step is to make those top four (playoff) slots and then we have now more experience in that environment. I think that experience, even though we're still a young team ... that will benefit us."
The Red Stars reached the four-team playoffs the past two years but couldn't advance past the semifinals. With 17 players back from last year's team, expectations are high.
"It will be the most competitive season we've ever had internally as far as competing to get on the field and for spots each week, which sometimes is a good thing and sometimes is a bad thing," coach Rory Dames said. "I think we'll turn it into a good thing here, but some of the players are having to adjust to that."
The Red Stars seem strong throughout the lineup, led by U.S. national team players Alyssa Naeher, Julie (Johnston) Ertz, Christen Press and Naperville Central graduate Casey Short.
"We do have solid lines throughout the entire pitch, and I think that's something that's our strength," DiBernardo said.
The Red Stars host FC Kansas City in Saturday's home opener (3 p.m. at Toyota Park). They hope to bounce back from a 2-0 loss at Houston in the season's first game.
"The first game is always, you don't know what to expect," DiBernardo said. "It's always challenging. We're at Houston in 1 o'clock in the afternoon, so our bodies aren't used to it. I think there were moments that we looked good and we just have to focus on those, learn from our mistakes and just keep moving forward."
Dames isn't fretting the first loss.
"I think you go one game at a time and one week at a time and just continue to work on the details that your team needs to improve upon," he said.
Red Stars schedule
Home games at Toyota Park listed in ALL CAPS
April 15: (at) Houston 2, Red Stars 0
Saturday: KANSAS CITY, 3 p.m.
April 29: at Portland, 3 p.m.
May 6: HOUSTON, 3 p.m. (Lifetime TV)
May 14: BOSTON, 5 p.m. (Lifetime)
May 21: at North Carolina, 3 p.m.
May 27: N. CAROLINA, 3 p.m.
June 4: SEATTLE, 2 p.m.
June 17: WASHINGTON, 3 p.m. (Lifetime)
June 25: SKY BLUE, 5 p.m.
June 28: at Seattle, 9:30 p.m.
July 1: at Orlando, 4 p.m.
July 7: at Boston, 6 p.m.
July 15: at Sky Blue, 6 p.m.
July 22: ORLANDO, 3 p.m. (Lifetime)
Aug. 5: at Orlando, 6:30 p.m.
Aug. 12: PORTLAND, 7 p.m.
Aug. 16: SEATTLE, 7 p.m.
Aug. 20: KANSAS CITY, 5 p.m.
Aug. 26: at Washington, 6 p.m.
Sept. 3: N. CAROLINA, 5 p.m.
Sept. 9: at Kansas City, 3 p.m.
Sept. 23: at Houston, 3 p.m. (Lifetime)
Sept. 30: at Portland, 3 p.m. (Lifetime)
Tickets: Season tickets, flex packs and single-game tickets available at chicagoredstars.com or at (773) 697-8699.
Red Stars roster
Goalkeepers: Michele Dalton, Alyssa Naeher
Defenders: Julie Ertz, Arin Gilliland, Sarah Gorden, Samantha Johnson, Katie Naughton, Casey Short
Midfielders: Taylor Comeau, Danielle Colaprico, Vanessa DiBernardo, Sofia Huerta, Lauren Kaskie, Mary Luba, Alyssa Mautz, Morgan Proffitt
Forwards: Summer Green, Jen Hoy, Stephanie McCaffrey, Christen Press
Coaching staff: Head coach Rory Dames; assistant coach Bonnie Young, second assistant Brian Kibler, goalkeeper coach Jordi King