North Carolina goes to NWSL final with 2-0 win over Chicago
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Jessica McDonald and Samantha Mewis each scored, and North Carolina beat the Chicago Red Stars 2-0 on Tuesday night in a National Women’s Soccer League semifinal that was moved because of Hurricane Florence.
The Courage (18-1-6) will play the defending champion Portland Thorns for the NWSL title on Saturday, also on Portland’s home field.
The semifinal between the Courage and Red Stars (9-6-10) was originally set for Sunday at North Carolina’s home in Cary. The team dedicated the victory to the people back home affected by the storm.
“There’s been a lot of hardship, obviously. Where we’re located it wasn’t that bad, but some of the areas near the beach, I think they’ve gone through a lot and this was them for today,” Courage coach Paul Riley said. “We talked about it before the game, and they were representing a little more than Raleigh and the Courage today.”
The Courage had the best regular-season record in the league, but the move left them without a home playoff game. The NWSL named Providence Park as its championship venue in May.
Playing in front of a Portland crowd of 4,646, the Courage took the lead on McDonald’s goal in the fifth minute. McDonald got past Chicago defender Julie Ertz before blasting the ball past diving goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher. It was her first playoff goal.
Mewis’ goal from distance came in the 86th minute, sailing into the upper corner and out of Naeher’s reach.
“We’re excited for the final,” Mewis said afterward. “I think Chicago presented us with a lot of things for us to fix and work on, and we’re grateful for that.”
Chicago’s Sam Kerr, who won the league’s Golden Boot with 16 goals this season, was not able to get through North Carolina’s defense despite previous success at Providence Park.
The runner-up for goals this season was North Carolina’s Lynn Williams (14), who along with Kerr is an MVP finalist.
It was the fourth straight year that Chicago has lost in the semifinals.
“I think this one’s probably a little different. I thought we were really good tonight,” Chicago coach Rory Dames said. “I thought we opened up a really good team, especially in the first half. It’s not often they pull back their pressure and sit a little lower. We forced them into doing that because we were able to break their lines.”
Tobin Heath and Lindsey Horan each scored in the Thorns’ 2-1 victory over the Seattle Reign in the other semifinal this past Saturday. Megan Rapinoe scored for the Reign.
In addition to their title last year, the Thorns (13-6-6) also won the league’s inaugural championship in 2013.