Sam Mewis (left) connected from long distance to seal the game for the Courage. (Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports)
PORTLAND, Ore. — The North Carolina Courage have returned to the National Women’s Soccer League championship game against the Portland Thorns.
Despite playing the semifinal in a neutral venue, the Courage recorded a 2-0 victory over the Chicago Red Stars at Providence Park Tuesday night. The NWSL Supporters Shield winners could not play at home due to the recent Hurricane Florence that hit North Carolina.
Jessica McDonald and Sam Mewis scored goals for tbe Courage, who will take on the defending champions in a rematch of last year’s championship game at Providence Park.
“We know its going to be a challenging game,” McDonald said. “I know the fans are going to be into it. I know [Portland] is going to be into it. We’re going to be [ready]. It’s a going to be a scrap, a fight, all of the above.”
McDonald tallied, off a pass from Rockville Centre, N.Y. native Crystal Dunn with the game only five minutes old.
North Carolina, coached by Long Island resident Paul Riley, held off the Red Stars and league-scoring champion Sam Kerr until Sam Mewis smashed a 30-yare shot from the right side into the upper far post for an insurance goal.
“We’ve had a good year so far,” Mewis said, “but we have some unfinished business.”
The Courage managed to hold the prolific Kerr, an Australian international off the scoresheet.
“Chicago was great,” Mewis said. “They’re an awesome team. I give so much credit.”
The Red Stars almost struck first with a well-placed volley by Yuki Nagasato that hit the crossbar in the third minute. It was the Courage, however who would draw first blood. Dunn fed a through-ball to McDonald who took it upfield and struck it far post for the 1-0 lead in the fifth minute.
Four minutes later Kerr almost found the equalizer, but her shot from the top of the box hit the post and ricocheted back into the box before being cleared by the NC Courage defense.
Both teams continued to trade opportunities throughout the rest of the half with Debinha’s shot in the 13th minute going wide and a header by McDonald in the 25th being cleared by Nagasato near post.
Just before the halftime whistle, the Red Stars made one last attempt on goal with the Japanese striker, but Sabrina D’Angelo was on it making a brilliant save.
The second half started with Chicago pressing hard for an equalizer a shot by Casey Short in the 55thwas saved by D’Angelo, while Kerr was unable to connect with a cross in front of goal in the 67th.
With the game winding down, the Courage applied some pressure looking for an insurance goal. Back-to-back opportunities by Debinha ended wide or saved by Chicago goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher in the 80thminute.
The Courage would finally find the second tally in the 86th minute as Dunn sent the ball to an oncoming Mewis who struck a laser shot from 25 yards out into the upper 90 to beat Naeher.