Lueb­bert ahead of sched­ule

For­ward went un­drafted but made trip to utah, scored first goal in fall series

Chicago Sun-Times - - RED STARS BEAT - BY AN­NIE COSTABILE | acosta­bile@sun­times.com | @an­niecosta­bile

Red Stars rookie for­ward Sarah Lueb­bert had no ex­pec­ta­tions of play­ing in the NWSL this sea­son. She went un­drafted in Jan­uary and was fin­ish­ing school at Mis­souri when she got a call from coach Rory Dames about join­ing the team for pre­sea­son train­ing.

Her orig­i­nal plan was to play for the re­serves team over the sum­mer be­fore head­ing over­seas to gain more pro­fes­sional ex­pe­ri­ence. When train­ing and the sea­son were post­poned in the spring be­cause of the pan­demic, Lueb­bert was given a shot.

“The pan­demic weirdly gave me an op­por­tu­nity to come to the Red Stars’ sec­ond pre­sea­son train­ing camp,” Lueb­bert said. “It was re­ally ex­cit­ing.”

Lueb­bert re­mem­bers join­ing the team at the end of May with nerves.

She didn’t know what to ex­pect or how she’d fit with the ros­ter, but she had con­fi­dence in her abil­ity to keep up with the Red Stars’ fully loaded team.

“I never re­ally thought ‘I for sure have a spot,’ ” Lueb­bert said. “I do re­mem­ber af­ter my first few train­ings think­ing and telling my par­ents that I thought I could play with the girls, that I could hang.”

Lueb­bert didn’t re­ceive a ton of re­as­sur­ance from Dames. Other than a con­ver­sa­tion they had af­ter a scrimmage where he tried her out at left back, they didn’t talk at all.

It was dur­ing that con­ver­sa­tion, though, that Dames got a glimpse at the kind of player Lueb­bert was. He asked her if she’d be com­fort­able play­ing left back more in the fu­ture. She said she’d play any­where the team needed her.

As pre­sea­son train­ing be­gan to wind down and the team pre­pared to leave for Utah and the NWSL Chal­lenge Cup, Lueb­bert had few ex­pec­ta­tions. She thought maybe she’d be in­vited to Utah, or worst case, she’d be cut.

When Dames told Lueb­bert he needed to speak with her af­ter prac­tice one af­ter­noon, she wasn’t ex­pect­ing to be of­fered a twoyear con­tract.

“I made sure to say thank you, but I think that’s all I said,” Lueb­bert said. “[The first per­son I called was] my dad. He was like, ‘I’m happy for you, but I’m not sur­prised.’ ”

Lueb­bert checked off a ca­reer mile­stone in the Red Stars’ first game of the NWSL’s Fall Series, scor­ing her first pro­fes­sional goal off a cross from Kealia Watt that she put in the back right cor­ner of the net. The Red Stars ended up los­ing the match to the Washington Spirit 2-1.

The Red Stars spent this week pre­par­ing for Sky Blue, whom they host at noon Sun­day at SeatGeek Sta­dium. The game will be broad­cast on CBS All Ac­cess.

Lueb­bert said the game plan is to con­tinue build­ing up in the at­tack and cre­at­ing chances. Dames also has said the team is fo­cused on get­ting as many young play­ers game ac­tion as pos­si­ble.

The Fall Series is just an­other op­por­tu­nity for the Red Stars to de­velop their young tal­ent. For Lueb­bert, it’s an op­por­tu­nity that only was made pos­si­ble by the un­pre­dictabil­ity the 2020 sea­son.

“I feel like I’m sup­posed to be here in Chicago,” Lueb­bert said. “Whether I got here this year like I did or maybe I had to go over­seas and come back here even­tu­ally be­cause my goal was al­ways to play for the NWSL. I think I would have got­ten back here one way or the other. This sit­u­a­tion just weirdly ex­pe­dited the process.” ✶

RANDY LITZINGER/AP

Red Stars for­ward Sarah Lueb­bert drib­bles in an NWSL Fall Series game against the Washington Spirit last Satur­day in Lees­burg, Va.

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