NWSL Playoffs: Portland overwhelms Orlando, North Carolina edges Chicago

The North Carolina Courage will face the Portland Thorns in the NWSL championship game Saturday in Orlando.

North Carolina-Chicago. Irish international Denise O’Sullivan broke a scoreless deadlock in the 89th minute to give the Courage, the defending league champion and 2017 regular-season champion, a 1-0 win over the Chicago Red Stars, the only team that has made the NWSL playoffs in the last three teams but has lost in the semifinals each year.

O’Sullivan's shot deflected shot off the shin of Red Stars star Julie Ertz and past Alyssa Naeher for the game's only goal. The win reversed a string of three straight losses by North Carolina to the Red Stars in the regular season.

Courage head coach Paul Riley: "The second half was a really good performance for us. In the first half, we looked a little bit nervous. We were coughing the ball up and giving balls away, and it wasn’t really like us. McCall [Zerboni] and Sam [Mewis] got themselves together at halftime and I think they changed the game around.”

Oct. 8 in Cary, N.C.
North Carolina 1 Chicago. 0. Goal: O'Sullivan 89.
North Carolina -- Rowland; Erceg, Smith, Dahlkemper, Hinkle; Mewis, Zerboni, O’Sullivan; Williams, Debinha (Hamilton 10), Hatch (McDonald 83)
Chicago -- Naeher; Short, Johnson (McCaffrey 90), Naughton, Gilliland; Ertz, Colaprico (Mautz 90), Huerta, DiBernardo; Hoy (Nagasato 57), Press.
Att.: 10,017.

Portland-Orlando. The Thorns, who lost to the Western New York Flash (now the Courage), in last year's semifinals, overwhelmed the Orlando Pride with Alex Morgan and Marta, 4-1, to move into the final.

Portland got a pair of goals from Amandine Henry and Emily Sonnett in a three-minute span in the first 15 minutes to break open the game. Both goals came off excellent service from first Meghan Klingenberg and then Tobin Heath.

Thorns head coach Mark Parsons: "I thought the first 20 [minutes] were electric. I think a challenge for us is to know that’s what makes us good. When we play with that energy, that quality and that aggression without the ball, challenge often and keep that foot on the pedal. We had another lesson today. That propels us into knowing that we have more to work on this week to get ready for a final this week. It was just a very disciplined performance. We had momentum. We grabbed goals. They had momentum. We were focused. We were patient. We were hard working.

Oct. 7 in Portland, Ore.
Portland 4 Orlando 1. Goals: Henry 12, Sonnett 15, Raso 71, Sinclair 82; Kennedy 23.
Portland -- Franch, Reynolds, Sonnett, Menges, Klingenberg, Henry (Long, 81), Horan, Sinclair, Sykes (Brynjarsdottir, 67), Raso, Heath (Nadim, 80).
Orlando -- Harris, Edmonds (Evans, 89), Monica, Krieger, Catley, Pressley, Weatherholt (Spencer, 81), Kennedy, Ubogagu (Hill, 73), Marta, Morgan.
Att.: 18,193.

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