With a record like 17-6-1 it's hard to believe where any team would be other than a final after beating the Chicago Red Stars, 2-0 last night. Even harder to argue with is when the team has a star studded cast of attacking power, midfield prowess and defensive efficiency. Not to mention several players that could have been nominated MVP (two of them definitely are). So can we truly be surprised that the NC Courage are in another final?
Let's take a quick glance at yesterday's semi-final game against the Chicago Red Stars at Providence Park. Chicago, definitely no slouch of an opponent with their own MVP nominee and Golden Boot Winner Sam Kerr, fought hard and kept the game close till the end. Sam Kerr had a couple of chances with Japanese international Yuki Nagasato, as her partner in crime as they led the attack. The first half was definitely engaging with both teams going back and forth more times than the favorably Chicago biased crowd could react. Even as Chicago put on that pressure you could tell who the football Gods' were pulling for.
A lucky bounce here, a deflected pass there and even a couple knocks off of NC Courage keeper Sabrina D'Angelo's, post several times kept the Courage in front after Jess McDonald's sleek toe poke was slotted past Alyssa Naeher, in the beginning minutes of the game. A goal reminiscent of O Fenomeno Ronaldo, McDonald, put in a performance worthy of match MVP. But, even with the ball bouncing for the Courage and the chances Chicago themselves created their wasn't much of a doubt how this game would finish. Why you ask? Personnel.
Take a look at the formation Coach Paul Riley, enforced this game, a 4-4-2 on paper. This is a stable formation with a very attack mindset behind it and why not? With the likes of veteran striker Jess McDonald, and speedy MVP nominee Lynn Williams, their offense should be the best defense. McDonald's hold up play is one of the best in the game and became very prominent as the game progressed. Her height, speed and physicality makes her a great candidate for such an attack minded set up.
Although Lynn Williams, was fairly quiet for a player of her calibre her darting runs and all out speed kept her an ongoing threat. Beside them you have the ever so dangerous Debinha and Crystal Dunn (the latter provided both assists for each goal) making advanced runs behind, around, or through the front two forwards to make for explosive front four with so many options that any team will struggle with.
We could talk about stats but of course stats aren't everything. That was shown in the 86th minute when a back pass by Dunn, found a Samantha Mewis who (coming off of injury) let fly a wicked shot from distance worthy of winning any game. That shot sums up the Courage's dominance and the reason why they have been by far the best team in the NWSL. Not to mention their MVP nominee McCall Zerboni, wasn't even available yesterday due to injury. She would have added another layer of cushion in the midfield that Mewis and O'Sullivan occupied. They have the personnel that can provide goals consistently from multiple avenues and an experienced back line that has seen it all. Their 2-0 win yesterday was completely routine.
You can witness the full game here on the NWSL website.