Naperville's DiBernardo delivers for Red Stars

Updated 9/13/2015 3:28 PM
  • Vanessa DiBernardo

    Vanessa DiBernardo

To avoid coming only close to winning championships, the Chicago Red Stars stayed close to home in last year's draft.

They picked Naperville native Vanessa DiBernardo, soccer's equivalent of NBA assist king Chris Paul.

DiBernardo, the second-year table setter, knows how to win championships. She is a three-time state champion at the high school level, leading Waubonsie Valley to state titles as a freshman, sophomore and senior from 2007 to 2010. As a sophomore at the University of Illinois, she helped the Illini win the Big Ten tournament championship.

The Red Stars, established in 2007 but still looking for their first professional championship, are hoping they'll benefit from the DiBernardo touch. They'll be hosting defending league champion FC Kansas City in the National Women's Soccer League semifinals today (12:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1) at Toyota Park in Bridgeview. A win there and the Red Stars would have the opportunity to win their first pro championship in the NWSL championship game on Oct. 1 in Portland.

"Most players like to play in their hometowns if they can and I feel really lucky that the Red Stars picked me as early as they did," DiBernardo said. "We're just looking at (the Kansas City) game right now, but we do know about how the Red Stars haven't won (a pro league title) yet. It would be nice to do."

DiBernardo, who leads the Red Stars and is second in the league in assists (5), is a winner just like her father Angelo, a 1984 Olympian, a pro with the New York Cosmos and a star at Indiana University. He was DiBernardo's travel coach all through high school and was her youth coach as well.

"I've been told by people who have seen us both play that we are very similar players," DiBernardo said of her father, who was born in Argentina and moved to Chicago when he was 16. "He got me started with soccer and helped me a lot when I was younger. I think where I feel most comfortable is setting up my teammates."

Teammates like the talented Christen Press, who ranks second in the NWSL in goals with 10 in just 11 appearances. She is one of three World Cup champions on the Red Stars' roster, which also includes star defender Julie Johnston and midfielder Lori Chalupny. Meanwhile, Sofia Huerta, a candidate for NWSL rookie of the year, is second on the team in goals with 6.

"We've got a really good mix of players who can all do different things and who all have different qualities," DiBernardo said. "We are very dynamic."

Kansas City features one of the most star-studded rosters in the NWSL, starting with four members of the U.S. team that won the World Cup, defender Becky Sauerbrunn and attackers Lauren Holiday, Amy Rodriguez and Heather O'Reilly.

"For the first time in a long time, we're clearly the underdog," Red Stars coach Rory Dames said. "Most people you talk to are all about FCKC, and rightfully so. They're a fantastic team and the pressure is on them. They are the ones who are trying to defend their title. It's on us now to give them a run for their money."

The Red Stars are 8-3-9 on the season, and against Kansas City got a win and a tie.

"We started off the season strong," DiBernardo said of the Red Stars' 4-0-3 start. "I remember when we lost our first game (on June 6 against Western New York), it definitely hit us hard. It made us realize that we didn't like being in that position. We got back on track and have been playing well ever since. We just want to keep that up."

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