Record-setting North Carolina women’s pro soccer team seeks one more

September 14, 2018

The North Carolina Courages dominance of the National Womens Soccer League this season has almost become boring. The Courage clinched the regular season title more than a month ago. It feels settled and done with: The Courage are the best club womens soccer team in the world.

Even Hurricane Florence, which forced the team to reschedule its home semifinal game to a midweek game in Portland, cant stop North Carolina from being the favorites to take home the playoff title.

The Courage reset most of the league record books this season: most wins, most points, most goals scored and the fewest points allowed. No soccer team in the history of U.S. womens pro soccer has earned more points per game. If the Courage win the playoff title, it would make them the first NWSL team to win both the Supporters Shield and the championship in the same year perhaps the only record the team doesnt yet hold.

North Carolinas defense has been excellent, so good that stats company Opta named the Courage back four as the four defenders in its Best XI all-star team for the season. As good as the defense has been, though, the offense has been even better. Forwards Lynn Williams and Jessica McDonald and wingers Crystal Dunn and Debinha combined for 37 goals, more than most NWSL teams scored this year.

The only thing that can slow down the Courage is a late-season injury to midfielder McCall Zerboni, whose commanding presence in central midfield both protected the defense and freed the offense. She will miss the playoffs with a fractured elbow.

Their main competitor is Portland, which defeated them in last seasons playoff finals. Since the beginning of July, Portland is 7-1-1. All-star winger Tobin Heath is back to her old self, and she and her U.S. womens national team teammate Lindsay Horan are mainstays on the scoresheet. Heath has scored in four consecutive games. Horan has seven goals in eight games.

Portland also has the advantage of the entire playoff schedule being held in Portland, with the championship game played there regardless of the outcome of the semifinals. Last season, the Thorns pulled off a 1-0 victory in the championship game over North Carolina, despite the Courage winning the regular season. Portland is hoping for a repeat.

Two other teams in the playoff picture are Seattle, which plays at Portland (2 p.m. Saturday, Lifetime) and Chicago, which takes on North Carolina (8 p.m. Tuesday, ESPNNews).

Chicago has Sam Kerr, the leagues leading scorer, and so is always dangerous. The Red Stars are on a bit of a tear, like Portland, with only two losses in three months

Seattle has Megan Rapinoe, who is returning from injury. Her absence, along with the absence of Reign star Allie Long, was part of the reason that the Reign lost 3-1 to Portland last week, a result that will be difficult for the Thorns to repeat.

Right now, though, it looks more like everyone else against North Carolina. And the way the Courage have played this year, even with the playoffs being played entirely in Portland, itll be tough for anyone to top them.

Writer Jon Marthaler gives you a recap of recent events and previews the week ahead. jmarthaler@gmail.com

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