PORTLAND, Oregon (Sept. 22, 2018) — Every odd was against the North Carolina Courage during the 2018 NWSL post-season.
Not only did McCall Zerboni fall to injury at possibly the worst time, but Hurricane Florence wrecked havoc across North Carolina, forcing the Courage to flee WakeMed Soccer Park for the semifinals. However, after cruising past the Chicago Red Stars at Providence Park, the Courage was locked in for an old rivalry match.
North Carolina Courage Extract Revenge, Win NWSL Championship
After falling to the Portland Thorns FC in the NWSL Championship last year, North Carolina learned they had an opportunity to extract revenge, facing Portland for a second-straight final.
That’s what the Courage did.
For the first time in NWSL history, the North Carolina Courage is the first team to win the NWSL Supporter’s Shield — given to the first-place team at the end of the regular season — and the championship game.
Debinha kicked off North Carolina’s momentum, scoring in the 13th minute. Her goal was unassisted, silencing the crowd of 21,144 — a sell-out crowd — at Providence Park. Before the halftime whistle blew, Jessica McDonald scored on a header in the 40th minute. Jaelene Hinkle — who was constantly booed throughout the match due to her anti-LGBTQ views — delivered the assist.
McDonald wasn’t finished, though.
Courage defender Merritt Mathias found McDonald in the box, firing a rocket shot to her forward. However, the goal didn’t go in for Mathias, as McDonald got her head on the ball. The brace was met with cheers from the small Courage supporters.
After a few more attempts on goal saved by goalkeeper Katelyn Rowland, the final whistle blew, naming North Carolina the winners. After the match, McDonald said that it “just counted” against the Thorns on Saturday.
“This is what we worked so hard for,” McDonald said. “We truly deserved because we had some really hard days throughout the season. It led us to today. I can’t be prouder of this team.”
Crystal Dunn followed up McDonald by saying that every game was about “putting on a performance.”
“We knew going into this game it was going to be hostile,” Dunn said. “The road we took to get there, it’s incredible. From having the home-seed to losing it because of the hurricane, we knew we were coming into a crowd not in our favor.”
On the other side, Meghan Klingenberg, defender for the Portland Thorns FC, said that North Carolina had “a hell of a season.”
“They’ve been putting in good performances game in and game out,” Klingenberg explained. “They had a great match, credit to them. They came in with a good game plan. We just needed to get some shots on goal and test their keeper. We had some really awesome attacks, but we didn’t get that final piece.”
— NWSL (@NWSL) September 22, 2018
- Jessica McDonald settled down and got better: After sending a couple headers either over the goal or wide, Jessica McDonald got some words of wisdom from her head coach, Paul Riley. After some advice, McDonald settled down and scored twice. McDonald had another good look after her second goal, in attempts to earn a hat-trick. However, two was enough for the champion forward.
- Despite two goals from McDonald, Debinha was MVP: No player was busier than the small Brazilian forward that is Debinha. The powerhouse midfielder had a lot of work to do, filling in a huge leadership role with Zerboni gone with injury. However, she wasn’t just vocal; she was fast. She found players with fantastic through-balls.
- Underdogs? Underdogs: Looking at all the records that North Carolina broke, the history that was snapped and the win-loss record, calling the Courage underdogs would seem crazy. However, as Dunn mentioned, throughout the playoffs, North Carolina was the underdog.
— NC Courage (@TheNCCourage) September 22, 2018