Cary, NC - The North Carolina Courage are heading back to the NWSL Championship for the third time in as many years after defeating Reign FC 4-1 Sunday afternoon in extra time at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park.
With the win, the Courage will get to defend last year’s championship on their home field, as head coach Paul Riley’s team will host either the Chicago Red Stars or Portland Thorns FC on Sunday, Oct. 27 at 3:30 p.m.
Ninety minutes weren’t enough to determine a winner on Sunday, despite right back Heather O’Reilly’s go-ahead penalty kick in the 88th minute. After Reign FC’s Ifeoma Onumonu equalized three minutes into stoppage time, the NC Courage kept their composure and scored the game’s final three goals in extra time thanks to midfielder Debinha, an own goal by Reign FC’s Lauren Barnes and forward Crystal Dunn.
“When you give up a late goal like that, it can affect the psyche of a team,” NC Courage head coach Paul Riley said. “I told them at the end of the game, ‘It’s a mighty challenge.’ It was kind of a hole we put ourselves in, but you only get better by being in those types of holes. They showed a lot of character in overtime.”
On a day where Reign FC goalkeeper Casey Murphy made 11 saves, the Courage continuously mounted pressure despite not being able to find the back of the net easily. Riley’s group registered three shots on target in the first half, including forward Lynn Williams’ redirection of a Jaelene Hinkle cross, which ricocheted off the right post in stoppage time.
Out of the halftime break, the Courage picked up right where they left off. In the 57th minute, forward Jessica McDonald got in behind the Reign FC defense but saw Murphy stop her shot. Always active in the attack, Dunn nearly opened the scoring in the 72nd minute, but Murphy once again kept the visitors in the match with a great save.
Eventually, the Courage were awarded a penalty kick after a Reign FC handball in the box in the 87th minute. Shortly after, O’Reilly stepped up to the spot and buried her second goal of the year.
With less than a minute of stoppage time remaining, Reign FC equalized on a goal by Onumonu. Unfazed despite the shift in momentum, the Courage dominated extra time.
On her 28th birthday, Debinha notched the go-ahead goal in the 99th minute on a beauty of a free kick. After winning a foul just outside the 18-yard box, the Brazilian midfielder ambitiously curled her right-footed free kick into the left corner of the net, breaking the deadlock.
From there, the Courage maintained the pressure. A pace-filled cross by substitute Kristen Hamilton led to Barnes’ own goal one minute into stoppage time in the first period of extra time.
Eager for a fourth, the Courage scored the game’s final goal in the 107th minute as midfielder Samantha Mewis set up Dunn.
In possession of a three-goal lead, the Courage saw out the victory, clinching its spot in next week’s title game.
Fact to Know
The Courage remained unbeaten (9W-0L-4D) in NWSL play at WakeMed Soccer Park, where it will host next week’s NWSL Championship.
The Courage will host either the Chicago Red Stars or Portland Thorns FC in the NWSL Championship at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park on Sunday, Oct. 27 at 3:30 p.m. The Courage are appearing in the title match for the third time in as many years since relocating to North Carolina and will attempt to defend last year’s title.
For tickets and information please visit NCCourage.com or call the Coastal Credit Union Box Office at 919-459-8144.
– The Courage scored four-plus goals for the sixth time this season.
– Debinha’s goal was her ninth of the season; Dunn’s was her eighth and O’Reilly’s was her second.
– The Courage outshot Reign FC 34-7 and had 14 shots on target to the visitors’ four.
– Samantha Mewis picked up her second assist of the season.
– Heather O’Reilly’s goal was the Courage’s fourth on a penalty kick this season.
– Kristen Hamilton, Julia Spetsmark, McCall Zerboni and Cari Roccaro appeared as substitutes for the Courage.
NCC (4-2-2-2): Stephanie Labbe; Jaelene Hinkle, Abby Erceg ©, Abby Dahlkemper, Heather O’Reilly; Denise O’Sullivan (McCall Zerboni, 102’), Samantha Mewis (Cari Roccaro, 109’); Debinha, Crystal Dunn; Lynn Williams (Julia Spetsmark, 112’), Jessica McDonald (Kristen Hamilton, 96’)
Subs not used: Katelyn Rowland, Kaleigh Kurtz, Meredith Speck
RFC (4-3-3): Casey Murphy; Stephanie Cox (Shea Groom, 90’), Kristen McNabb, Lauren Barnes, Stephanie Catley; Allie Long, Beverly Yanez, Bethany Balcer (Celia Jimenez, 63’); Darian Jenkins (Theresa Nielsen, 105’), Jodie Taylor (Ifeoma Onumonu, 80’), Megan Rapinoe ©
Subs not used: Lydia Williams, Morgan Andrews, Rosie White
NCC: Heather O’Reilly (penalty kick, 88’); Debinha (unassisted, 99’), Lauren Barnes (OG, 105+1’), Crystal Dunn (Samantha Mewis, 108’)
RFC: Ifeoma Onumonu (Celia Jimenez, 90+3’)
RFC: Allie Long, 50’