LISLE – When the Chicago Red Stars took the pitch Sunday night at the Benedictine University Sports Complex, it wasn't their first match at the stadium in Lisle.
It was, however, their first contest as a member of a new women's professional soccer effort, the National Women's Soccer League.
A fresh attempt to create an all-professional league — and the third such league to form since 2000 — the NWSL brought the brand-new Seattle Reign FC to the western suburbs for the season opener for both teams.
The result was a 1-1 tie, but the flurry of outstanding scoring chances for the Red Stars in the second half had the crowd gasping with excitement.
For Red Stars coach Rory Dames, that evident excitement made the game a success in spite of the mixed result on the field.
"I think even people who haven't been the biggest soccer fans to date, when they start to get out and see this, I think our group will turn on some new people to the game because they'll respect what they do and how hard they do it," Dames said after the game.
That hard work was evident in the first half when the Red Stars worked to overcome an early 1-0 deficit and got an equalizer from Lori Chalupny, a veteran midfielder with appearances for the wildly successful U.S. national team over much of the past decade.
Chalupny had a number of chances to give the Red Stars a go-ahead goal in the second half with corner kicks that severely tested Seattle's defenders and goalkeeper. While victory was elusive, it was clear from the crowd's enthusiastic response to each chance that they were enjoying the game.
"The games need to be entertaining," Dames said when asked what the fledgling league requires to be a success in the long-term. "All of the players ... need to understand that the league is a privilege, not a right, and that in order for the league to stick around, people have to be willing to come and watch them play, and they probably have to do some things that other professional athletes don't have to do.
"If there's 500 little kids here, and it means you're here for an hour and a half after the game, then we'll be here for an hour and a half after the game [signing autographs]."
Dames was also enthusiastic about the Red Stars' potential to draw fans from all over DuPage County.
"In the Naperville and Wheaton area alone, the amount of youth players, it's a huge player pool," Dames said. "But I hope we'll be able to draw fans not just from this area, or the city, but from all over."