CARY, N.C. – As the Western New York Flash last year, the team not only reached the National Women’s Soccer League championship match, it won the title.
As the North Carolina Courage this season, this team could be only 90 minutes away from wearing back-to-back crowns.
The Courage secured a spot in the NWSL Championship final with a 1-0 victory over the Chicago Red Stars in front of a record crowd of 10,017 at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park Sunday.
After playing most of the match in Chicago’s half, the Courage sealed the victory with a goal from Denise O’Sullivan off an assist from Jess McDonald in the 90th minute.
North Carolina will play the Portland Thorns in the NWSL Championship match at Orlando City Stadium in Orlando, Fla. Saturday.
“The second half was a really good performance for us,” said head coach Paul Riley, who calls Long Island home. “In the first half, we looked a little bit nervous. We were coughing the ball up and giving balls away, and it wasn’t really like us. McCall [Zerboni] and Sam [Mewis] got themselves together at halftime and I think they changed the game around.
“We’ve lost to them three times this year so it was nice to win one against them. Chicago is a very good side. I’m just proud of the troops.”
From the first minute, the Courage put the visitors under pressure and outpossessed and outshot Chicago. North Carolina posted a 19-6 advantage in total shots and a 53.4-46.6 percent advantage in possession at halftime.
During the opening 45 minutes, both teams struggled to find the target, as each goalkeeper made one save each. North Carolina increased its pressure in the closing stages of the half, which nearly led to a first-half goal.
In stoppage time of the first half, Abby Erceg headed a shot past Red Stars keeper Alyssa Naeher, but defender Katie Naughton had a goal-line clearance to relieve the pressure.
Despite outplaying Chicago for the large majority of the match, North Carolina still searched for a go-ahead goal late in the match. The game-winning moment finally came in the 90th minute, as O’Sullivan found the back of the net after a deflection off Julie Ertz left Naeher wrong-footed. Sam Mewis started the play after sending a corner kick into the box. McDonald got a head on the cross and played the ball back towards a wide open O’Sullivan who converted the chance from the top of the box.