By Jeff Vorva
Two days before her 23rd birthday, No. 23 made her first professional start.
Orland Park native Tatumn Milazzo was a starting defender and played 70 minutes in the Red Stars’ 1-0 loss to Portland in the second round of the National Women’s Soccer League Challenge Cup on April 15 night at SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview.
Milazzo is listed as a supplemental roster player and made her pro debut April 9, when she played three minutes in a 0-0 draw in a road battle with Houston the first round of the Challenge. She had 45 touches and was 75% in passing accuracy in her extended time against the Thorns.
Fans were not allowed at SeatGeek, but players were allocated a few tickets for guests. Milazzo’s cheering section featured her mother, Jen; her sister, Cosa Bella; and grandparents Rich and Cheryl Dykstra.
“This was super-exciting,” Milazzo said. “I was so happy that my family could come. There weren’t a ton of fans. But being a local, the Red Stars are a group of people that I have looked up to for eight or nine years. It’s been a dream come true to play with these people.
“I’m very excited to be here and I hope I can help us get better each week.”
Milazzo, an Andrew graduate, played 80 games for South Carolina from 2016-2019 and was on the 2017 squad that qualified for its first Women’s College Cup appearance. The Gamecocks won three Southeastern Conference title in three of her four seasons in Columbia.
She was a member of the Chicago Eclipse Select Soccer Club, an organization that was founded by Red Stars coach Rory Dames and produced 2012 Olympic gold medalist Amy LePeilbet.
“This is unreal,” Cheryl Dykstra said. “I remember when she was 12 and babysat [Dames’] kids.”
“I’m excited,” Jen Milazzo said during the match. “I’m very nervous but very excited.”
Moments after saying that, her daughter had a rare opportunity for a shot, which she sent just inches right of the goal.
This was the first time Tatumn played at SeatGeek. Her sister, Mia, now a junior at Missouri-St. Louis, played on the field for Andrew in the Windy City Ram Classic when the stadium was known as Toyota Park.
The Red Stars (0-1-1) have yet to score a goal in the Challenge. They had 11 shots in the scoreless draw against Houston and mustered eight shots against Portland.
“It’s still a work in progress – that’s what you use these games for,” Dames said. “We want to see some different combinations and see some different players.”
Morgan Weaver scored Portland’s lone goal in the 66th minute. She was given a red card in Portland’s first-round game and it was expected that she would miss Thursday’s matchup, but the NWSL rescinded the card on Tuesday and she did the damage against the Red Stars two days later.
Dames said Milazzo had a “decent” game in her starting debut against a strong Portland offense, and pointed out the defense has allowed just one shot on target in two matches.
“In 180 minutes we’ve given up one shot on goal and it scored,” he said. “I think the backs have done fairly well.”
In February, the Red Stars welcomed 14 members to a new ownership structure. Some of them, including Sandburg graduates Michael and Kendall Schofield — the former an offensive lineman for the Carolina Panthers, and the latter an Olympic gold medalist and professional hockey player — were on hand for Thursday’s battle.
The Red Stars are scheduled to host KC NWSL at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday and conclude the group stage competition with a road game April 27 against OL Reign.