The North Carolina Courage are still the reigning NWSL champions after they dismantled the second-place Chicago Red Stars to the tune of 4-0. After early weather reports suggested a washout, the sun shone bright throughout the match, but the Courage shone even brighter. North Carolina dominated the match from the opening whistle to the final seconds of stoppage time, with just a few shaky moments scattered throughout the match. For the second season in a row, the Courage owned the league.
I say Debinha, you say Debinha
No player came back from the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup with more fire and intensity than Debinha. She was one of the NWSL MVP finalists, but we all knew that the award would eventually go to Chicago striker Sam Kerr. That’s OK, though, because Debinha got an even better MVP award at the end of this match.
In the 3rd minute the game was decided. Chicago midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo took a cracking shot from the top of the box that was blocked away by Courage goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe. To everyone’s surprise, the ball didn’t go out for a corner kick. That small detail set the tone for the entire match. The ball was quickly sent up the field to Lynn Williams, who sprinted 60-yards down the pitch before sending an outlet pass to Jessica McDonald on the outside. Jess sent a weak cross bouncing through the box, but Debinha tricked her defender and got to the ball first. She took a first shot that was blocked, but nobody on Chicago wanted the ball as badly as the Brazilian. Debinha took a second shot that slipped past Alyssa Naeher and into the back of the net for the first Courage goal.
Williams would facilitate the second goal in the 26th minute, as well. Attacking the Chicago defense from the far right side of goal, she took a cut towards the end line and sent an absolutely perfect cross to the head of McDonald, who sent the ball back across the net and into the right side netting. Once again, Naeher attempted to recover, but there was no stopping such a perfect shot and the Courage took a 2-0 lead.
The Red Stars might have been able to mount some type of comeback if they’d taken a two goal deficit into halftime, but deep into first half stoppage time they would lose that edge. Sam Mewis found Debinha in the box on the right side of goal, and she laid the ball off for Crystal Dunn. Dunn tapped the ball between two closing defenders, but it looked like Naeher would collect the ball. Fortunately for Dunn, Julie Ertz tripped over Naeher as she tried to clear the ball, and Dunn was able to collect the recycled ball to score the third goal of the first half. As soon as the kickoff happened the first half was blown dead, and the Courage took a commanding 3-0 lead into the locker room.
North Carolina came out a little flat at the beginning of the second half, but they perked up after the first 10 minutes and then got their fourth goal in the 61st minute. It all started when Heather O’Reilly took a corner kick from the right side. The initial service was cleared away, but McCall Zerboni allowed the ball to roll out to Abby Dahlkemper. Nobody on the Chicago side made any effort to challenge Dahlkemper, so she whipped a perfect pass into the box. It fell right to the head of Mewis, who was able to beat Naeher’s slow movement off her line.
And that was that. Chicago did score one goal, but it was called off because Zerboni got kicked in the stomach to take her out of the play before DiBernardo collected the ball to take her shot. Sam Kerr was despondent as the game wore on, and the best striker in the league was held to just one real chance on the entire afternoon.
North Carolina has now been in the Championship game three years running. They’ve won the NWSL Shield three years running. Players will disperse for the offseason just days from now, as they try to rest and rehab from a long, difficult season. Things weren’t perfect this year. There were times where we were frustrated and disappointed in the squad. But tonight? Tonight everything is perfect.