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Where EAST meets the Northwest


SENSATIONAL STRIKER. Sam Kerr is one of the worldís most dangerous attackers, capable of creating a prime scoring opportunity for herself or one of her teammates in seconds. Kerr started her National Womenís Soccer League career in 2013 with the Western New York Flash before playing with Sky Blue FC from 2015 to 2017. She was acquired by the Chicago Red Stars in a three-team trade on draft day in January 2018. Kerr scored a league-record 17 goals in 2017, the season in which she was the NWSL most valuable player and Golden Boot winner. (AR Photo/Jan Landis)

From The Asian Reporter, V29, #16 (August 19, 2019), page 8.

Sam Kerr focused on leading Red Stars to NWSL title

By Jay Cohen

The Associated Press

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. (AP) ó Sam Kerr sat down on a metal bench after taking a few extra shots after practice. Chicago Red Stars coach Rory Dames poked fun at her competitive streak, and Kerr just laughed it off.

If the Aussie star is on her way out of town, it was hard to tell on a picturesque summer afternoon in suburban Chicago. While speculation abounds about where Kerr might play next season, she is focused on leading the Red Stars to the franchiseís first National Womenís Soccer League (NWSL) title.

"I want to win the NWSL. Iíve never done it, and I love Chicago," Kerr told The Associated Press. "The NWSLís given me so much. I think itís made me the player who I am."

And thatís one of the worldís most dangerous attackers, capable of creating a prime scoring opportunity for herself or one of her teammates in seconds. Itís easy to see why Chelsea might be interested in bringing her to Europe, or why she might draw lucrative offers from Lyon or Real Madrid.

What Kerr decides to do about her future could be a major test for the NWSL after it saw renewed interest in the wake of the United Statesí championship in the Womenís World Cup this summer. While the top Americans play in the NWSL, the loss of a foreign star like the 25-year-old Kerr would be a blow to the league as it tries to grow in the coming years.

"The best players in the world are in this league," Dames said, "and if you want to be one of the best players in the world, you need to come into this league and prove yourself, not prove yourself in leagues where the competition is a little different or the quality of the teams in the league from top to bottom are a little different.

"I think thatís one of the reasons why Sam has really excelled, is because a lot of the other perceived top players in the world I donít think could have the success that theyíre currently having where they are in this league."

Taking in the whole picture like a defense unfurled in front of her, Kerr seems at ease with the discussion.

"I think thereís a lot of new womenís teams coming forward, and I think itís just fans wanting me to go to their club," she said. "Itís new teams, new fans, which is great. Thatís what happens in the menís game. The more talk about womenís football, the better."

Kerr, who captained the Matildas in the World Cup, splits time between Chicago and the Perth Glory in Australiaís W-League. She is the all-time leading scorer in each league, and shows no signs of slowing down.

Kerr scored her NWSL-best 13th goal last week, but the Red Starsí five-game win streak was snapped by a 1-2 loss at Sky Blue FC. She also led the NWSL in goals in each of the previous two seasons, including a league-record 17 in 2017 when she was the NWSL most valuable player and Golden Boot winner during her final season with Sky Blue.

With Kerr powering the attack and Chicago fully stocked once again after the World Cup, the Red Stars are in second place in the NWSL standings, four points behind Portland and one clear of North Carolina.

"I think sheís just so dynamic," said defender Katie Naughton, who also plays with Kerr in Australia. "Her movement on and off the ball is just something that you donít necessarily see in the womenís game a lot."

Kerr was acquired by Chicago in a three-team trade on draft day in January 2018 that also featured U.S. stars Carli Lloyd and Christen Press. Midfielder Nikki Stanton, Kerrís longtime girlfriend, also moved to the Red Stars as part of the deal.

While the couple is competitive, Kerr said they know when to leave it back on the field.

"She kind of knows when Iíve had a bad game or when sheís had a bad game, and we donít bring it up," Kerr said. "Itís actually better, because itís someone, you know when you talk to your parents and they say the wrong thing and annoy you, so we kind of know what to say to each other."

Kerr, the youngest of four siblings, grew up in an Australia rules football family. Her father, Roger, and Daniel, one of her two brothers, played professionally. Soccer "was kind of seen as a little bit of a girlsí sport compared to an AFL [Australian Football League] game," Sam Kerr said.

Sam started focusing on soccer after she had to stop playing AFL when she was 12 years old because there was no womenís league for the hard-hitting sport. The women have their own league now, and Kerr has received several offers from its teams over the years.

"It would be amazing to play AFL and maybe one year I will retire there," she said, "but yeah, Iíve just grown to love football now. ... I canít see myself back there."

Editorís note: On Sunday, August 25 at noon, the Chicago Red Stars play the Portland Thorns at Providence Park. To buy tickets, visit <www.portlandthorns.com>.

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