The second NWSL semi-final has been played and won by North Carolina Courage over Chicago Red Stars 2-0. What have we learned?
1. Portland is WOSO city USA (maybe everywhere)
Pulling an average of 17,000 spectators to club games is outstanding for a women’s team - and to attract just over 4,600 to a 6 pm Tuesday night match featuring two out of town teams - well that’s pretty good too. Toss in the fanatical Rivetters active supporters group ( no they weren’t here tonight - why would they be?) and you have a great atmosphere in a boutique stadium that is unmatched. Something for the W League to learn from.
2. Sam Kerr can’t do it all by herself
Kerr looked dangerous until the last 10 minutes of the match but really after halftime, she was just shut out of the game by the North Carolina defence. Nothing quite worked for her tonight. The early shots wouldn’t go in. Her team was looking for her but when Kerr was covered (sometimes by three defenders) no one else looked like scoring.
3. Jessica McDonald’s role in the Courage team should not be underestimated.
Scoring the opening goal in less than two minutes was great. And she kept going the whole match until quite exhausted in the final five minutes By which time Sam Mewis goal had sealed the match anyway.
On a night when her forward partner Lynn Williams was not particularly effective, McDonald’s drive was critical. Since her time at Melbourne Victory McDonald has continued to develop her game, with silky ball skills to match her speed and strength.
4. Paul Riley has certainly created a very tight unit at Courage.
They see themselves as the team that never stops, that fight like they are always the underdogs, that win the hardball.
After the match at on the ground the team spent quite some time huddled together, talking. Now the challenge will be to recover in three days to take on a team that has had six days to recover. It won’t be easy but clearly, the team culture will take on the task with gusto.
5. Sam Mewis is vital to Courage.
A big unit with modest pace she needs to read the game well to have any effect - and she does.
Becoming more and more dominant In the midfield over the course of the match, Mewis put the icing on the cake with a powerful shot in the 86th minute that rifled into the back of the net to put the game beyond doubt.
Initial Predictions for the next match.... a very physical encounter, a lot of pressure on the referee, an insanely partisan Thorns crowd packing the stadium, lots more booing of Jaelene Hinkle.... can’t wait.