Jessica McDonald struck twice for North Carolina. (Andy Mead/YCJ Photo)
PORTLAND, Ore. — The North Carolina Courage put a big exclamation point on a giant season with an emphatic 3-0 triumph over the defending champion Portland Thorns to capture the National Women’s Soccer League title Saturday.
Jessica McDonald scored for North Carolina, which captured the Supporters Shield with an amazing 17-1-6 mark aqnd avenged last year’s loss in the championship game.
Coached by Bay Shore, N.Y. resident Paul Riley, the Courage has won two of the past two NWSL crowns, having secured the title as the Western New York Flash in 2016.
Not to be outdone, the Courage set NWSL records this season for the most wins, points and goals.
“It was a really good performance,” Riley said. “Forget the result, I think the performance was really good; they deserved to win the game. We dominated major parts of the game, the midfield bossed it and then the twin towers up front caused a lot of problems today. [We] executed everything and I was really happy with the performance more important than the result, to be honest with you, but it summed up the season. It was a great season; sometimes you get to a final and maybe it doesn’t produce what you want but today they produced everything that you could ask for in a performance.”
The game was played before a sellout crowd of 21,144 at Providence Park, a record for the final of a women’s pro league championship in the United States.
McDonald, a 30-year-old veteran who has played for five teams in six years, led the league with eight assists. She has three goals in the playoffs.
“It feels absolutely amazing. This is what we worked so hard for,” McDonald said. “Every single minute, every single day that we put work into — it counted today.”
Brazilian Debinha scored on a header in the 13th minute. McDonald followed with her own in the 40th minute.
The hosts came out energized in the second half, but goalkeeper Katelyn Rowland denied a Tobin Heath blast in the 55th minute.
McDonald struck again with a header in the 64th minute that Franch got a hand on.
After that goal, McDonald removed her jersey to reveal a T-shirt that read, “Jesus Paid It All,” the title of hymn.
The Courage had a double challenge in the playoffs. The team lost an opportunity to host a semifinal due to Hurricane Florence’s influence in the Cary, N.C. area. The game was moved here and North Carolina edged out the Chicago Red Stars Tuesday night. Meanwhile, the Thorns won their semifinal at Providence Park last Saturday, giving them three days of extra rest.
As it turned out, it didn’t matter at all.
“I mean you talk a lot about resolve and resiliency and it’s a word we use a lot in the locker room,” Riley said. “It comes with the team that we’ve put together and the culture of the club. This team does work the hardest and it’s been a tough, tough season. We’ve had a target on our backs for long stretches of the season and I think they handled that pressure and bore that pressure on their shoulders very well and today under this kind of cauldron it was tough man.”