Debinha, pictured playing for Brazil in the Women’s World Cup, scored the game-winner for North Carolina. (Alexis Reau/Presse Sports via USA TODAY Sports)
CARY, N.C. — Don’t let the 4-1 scoreline fool you.
The North Carolina Courage’s 4-1 victory over Reign FC in the National Women’s Soccer League semifinals Sunday was a lot closer than the actual numbers.
The defending champions scored four times in extratime to secure the win as they will host the Chicago Red Stars in the final Sunday, Oct. 27 at 3:30 p.m. The Red Stars defeated the Portland Thorns, 1-0, on Sam Kerr’s eighth-minute goal in a match that was played later in the day.
Ninety minutes weren’t enough to determine a winner , despite right back Heather O’Reilly’s go-ahead penalty kick in the 88th minute.
After Reign FC’s Ifeoma Onumonu equalized three minutes into stoppage time, the Courage kept its composure and scored the game’s final three goals in extratime thanks to midfielder Debinha, an own goal by Reign FC’s Lauren Barnes and forward Crystal Dunn.
“When you give up a late goal like that, it can affect the psyche of a team,” Courage head coach Paul Riley said. “I told them at the end of the game, ‘It’s a mighty challenge.’ It was kind of a hole we put ourselves in, but you only get better by being in those types of holes. They showed a lot of character in overtime.”
On a day where Reign FC goalkeeper Casey Murphy made 11 saves, the Courage mounted continuous pressure despite not being able to find the back of the net for most of regulation. Riley’s group registered three shots on target in the first half, including forward Lynn Williams’ redirection of a Jaelene Hinkle cross, which ricocheted off the right post in stoppage time.
Out of the halftime break, the Courage picked up right where they left off. In the 57th minute, forward Jessica McDonald got in behind the Reign FC defense but saw Murphy stop her shot. Always active in the attack, Dunn, a Rockville Centre, N.Y. nearly opened the scoring in the 72nd minute, but Murphy again kept the visitors in the match with a great save.
The Courage was awarded a penalty kick after a Reign FC handball in the box in the 87th minute. O’Reilly then buried her second goal of the year.
With less than a minute of stoppage time remaining, Reign FC equalized on a goal by Onumonu.
Unfazed despite the shift in momentum, the Courage dominated extra time.
On her 28th birthday, Debinha notched the go-ahead goal in the 99th minute on a brilliant free kick. After winning a foul just outside the 18-yard box, the Brazilian midfielder curled her right-footed free kick into the left corner of the net to break the deadlock.
The hosts maintained the pressure. A pace-filled cross by substitute Kristen Hamilton led to Barnes’ own goal one minute into stoppage time in the first period of extra time.
North Carolina scored the game’s final goal in the 107th minute as midfielder Samantha Mewis set up Dunn.