A crowd of about 3,560 filled the stadium at Benedictine University beyond capacity Saturday night to welcome back the Red Stars' four Women's World Cup champions and watch the NWSL's top team tie Boston 1-1.
Defender Julie Johnston, forward Christen Press, and veteran midfielders Shannon Boxx and Lori Chalupny were greeted with raucous applause in a postgame ceremony, which also honored the four World Cup players from non-U.S. teams: Canada's Melissa Tancredi, Adriana Leon, and Karina LeBlanc, and New Zealand's Abby Erceg.
The eight Red Stars playing in the Cup was a league-high, but even without them the team kept hold of first place standing in the NWSL with a record of 6-1-3.
Red Stars captain Chalupny wasted no time getting back in the driver's seat for Chicago on Saturday, giving her team the lead with a goal in the 53rd minute. Boston evened the score a few minutes later, and the two teams failed to break the stalemate before the 90 minutes ran out.
The record turnout in Lisle Saturday reflected the increased attention the Cup win brought to women's soccer in America, highlighted by a ticker tape parade in New York last week. Johnston, Press, Chalupny, and Boxx all remarked on the fans' fervor, both during the Cup run in Canada and afterward.
"The ticker tape parade was amazing. Not everyone is allowed to do that, not everyone is given the honor to do that," said the 38-year-old Boxx, who plans to retire after 2015, ending a career that included an Olympic gold medal and World Cup All-Star honors in 2011. "(Soccer in the States) has gotten so much better. Even back in '91, I wasn't on the team then but I do remember it -- they came back to nobody. Nobody was waiting for them at the airport. …
"Then in 2003 and 2011, we didn't win but we got an amazing reception when we came back to the U.S."
The first of the four returned to Chicago Friday from the Cup victory tour, with others arriving the day of the game on Saturday. Press said it will be an adjustment to ease back into NWSL play, but that she's looking forward to it.
"That's what it's like to be a professional athlete: you move, you live in a hotel, you pack, you fly -- you're just constantly adjusting," Press said. "When I got back to Chicago and I put all my stuff down, I just felt this rush of emotion again. Now I'm back, now I'm starting this new chapter, but it's always exciting. This team has done phenomenally while we were gone, and that puts us in a great position to start to dream again, to start to dream about winning the NWSL.
"(The World Cup win) seems so big, but we're all here because we love to play and all of our mindsets are going be on the NWSL and winning the title."
The National Team stars figure to get major minutes for the Red Stars in the nine games remaining in the NWSL regular season, starting with a road rematch against the Breakers on Wednesday.