After all of the uncertainty surrounding their playoffs, in which they eventually had to reschedule a Sunday home match vs the Chicago Red Stars to a Tuesday match at Providence Park due to Hurricane Florence, the NC Courage could have been forgiven for having been slightly distracted.
With the devastating loss of their dominant midfield force of nature, McCall Zerboni, to a broken elbow suffered while on duty with the USWNT—an injury that prevented Zerboni from even being present with her squad for the playoff game and the Championship match due to doctor’s orders not to travel following her complicated surgery—the NC Courage could have been forgiven for looking a bit out of sync.
And facing the Thorns—the team that had crushed their dreams in a substantially more neutral setting a year ago—in front of more than 21,000 of the Thorns home fans and perhaps 50 of their own traveling faithful, it would have been understandable if the Courage lacked the mental energy to overcome all of the compounded pressure to win just one more game.
But win they did. In grand, dominating fashion.
Portland wasn’t able to break down North Carolina’s defense. So they charged forward with ever greater numbers. Also, on attacking set pieces, they frequently failed to get back fast enough when things didn’t go as planned. Naturally, this led them exposed at the back, where the Courage’s speedy counter-attackers were more than happy to convert their chances.
Case in point:
Portland’s center back Emily Sonnett is in the attacking midfield area attempting to close down Crystal Dunn. She misses, and can’t recover in time to impact the scoring chance made possible by Dunn’s long pass. After gifting an unfortunate bounce to Lynn Williams, Emily Menges and Ellie Carpenter do their best to get into better defensive positions, and Meghan Klingenberg retreats to cover her post. Lindsey Horan makes an effort to get back, but she’s too far away.
Celeste Boureille seemed to be close enough to make herself part of the play, but her initial reaction was a bit slow, and once she accelerated, she lacked the speed to get into a better position once Williams took her shot on goal (which took a slight deflection off of Menges’ leg). To be fair, it would have been almost impossible to anticipate the rebound off the cross bar. But from the time of her initial run, Boureille did seem to have the option and speed to mark Debinha and didn’t do so, instead slowing down after the initial shot from Williams. So Debinha got herself into position for the uncontested header. Result: Goal.
Though Portland tried their best, they simply were the lesser team on what ended up being a beautiful day in Providence Park. They never recovered after surrendering the first goal, and had to watch the Courage celebrate their Championship on their home turf.
I can’t wait for 2019.