The North Carolina Courage claimed the 2018 NWSL Shield with a 2-1 victory over the Portland Thorns FC at Sahlen’s Stadium in Cary, N.C. Sunday.
It marked the second time in league history that a club has won the Shield in back-to-back seasons since the Seattle Reign FC accomplished the feat in 2014 and 2015.
North Carolina forward Lynn Williams scored in the 37th and 45th minutes to give her side a 2-0 advantage heading into halftime. In the second half, the Thorns responded as midfielder Lindsey Horan pulled one back in the 49th minute off a free kick served in by Tobin Heath.
With four games remaining on the season, the Courage possess a 15-1-4 record (49 points) and are within striking distance of matching or exceeding the best all-time single-season record in NWSL history which was set by the Seattle Reign FC (16-2-6, 54 points) in 2014.
“I thought it was a really, really good performance,” said Courage coach Paul Riley, who is a native of Bay Shore, N.Y. “Disappointed with the free kick; we talked about it the last 48 hours about stopping Horan on the free kicks, but we gave a silly one away. We should have cleared it and paid the price. But, great performance – I think worthy of winning the shield after that performance.
The 2018 season also will be remembered for the club’s 12-game unbeaten run to start the season – tying the Portland Thorns FC (2016) for the second-longest streak in NWSL history.
North Carolina has posted an 8-2-0 record on the road and a 7-2-1 mark at Sahlen’s Stadium in Cary, N.C. The eight away wins are three more than any other team has managed this year, while their seven home victories also top the league.
The Courage have been clinical on offense scoring 43 goals in 20 games, including recording two or more goals in a match 12 times this season and posting a 13-1-0 record in games that they have scored the first goal.
Lynn Williams (10 goals, 4 assists), Crystal Dunn (7 goals, 5 assists), Jessica McDonald (6 goals, 5 assists), Debinha (6 goals, 2 assists), Samantha Mewis (3 goals, 2 assists), McCall Zerboni (3 goals, 1 assist) and Kristen Hamilton (2 goals, 4 assists) have all played a crucial role in what has been a dominant season thus far illustrated by the team’s league-leading plus 28 goal difference.
The Courage has been impressive on the other side of the ball featuring one of the best defenses in the league this season. Led by goalkeepers Katelyn Rowland and Sabrina D’Angelo and a backline of Merritt Mathias, Abby Dahlkemper, Abby Erceg and Jaelene Hinkle the club has registered a league-leading nine shutouts.
NWSL Shield Winners:
2013: Western New York Flash (10-4-8, 38 points)
2014: Seattle Reign FC (16-2-6, 54 points)
2015: Seattle Reign FC (13-3-4, 43 points)
2016: Portland Thorns FC (12-3-5, 41 points)
2017: North Carolina Courage (16-7-1, 49 points)
2018: North Carolina Courage (15-1-4, 49 points) *
* = Courage have four games remaining in the 2018 season.
North Carolina again will attempt to become the first NWSL Shield winners to also claim the NWSL Championship. The top four teams will meet in the semifinals with the winners facing off in the championship.