NWSL Semifinals: Can best U.S. women's pro team shut down hottest striker?

Two days later than scheduled and at a different location, the NWSL semifinals will conclude on Tuesday night when the runaway Shield champion North Carolina Courage plays the Chicago Red Stars in Portland, Oregon.

The winner will stay for Saturday's championship game against the Portland Thorns at Providence Park while the loser will go home.

2018 meetings:
May 6: North Carolina 1 Chicago 1
July 4:
North Carolina 4 Chicago 1
Aug. 10: Chicago 1 North Carolina 1

NC COURAGE. The Courage broke multiple NWSL records in winning the Shield as regular-season champion -- most wins (17), most points (57), most goals scored (53) and fewest goals allowed (17) -- but history is not on its side. No Shield winner has ever won the postseason championship.

The Courage has made a believer out of Red Stars coach Rory Dames, though.

"North Carolina is the best women's team that has played in a professional league in this country," Dames said. "They've statistically proven that."

North Carolina won the first International Champions Cup women's title in July by beating French clubs Paris St. Germain and Lyon even though it was missing six starters playing at the Tournament of Nations.

One of those players, inspirational midfielder McCall Zerboni, won’t be available for the playoffs after suffering an elbow injury in a recent U.S. friendly against Chile. The UCLA product will likely be replaced by Denise O'Sullivan, whose 90th-minute goal won the 2017 semifinal match between the Courage and Red Stars.

NC Courage probable XI:
Goalkeepers
NO. PLAYER, AGE (COUNTRY, COLLEGE)
0 Katelyn Rowland, 24 (USA, UCLA)
Defenders
NO. PLAYER, AGE (COUNTRY, COLLEGE)
15 Jaelene Hinkle, 25 (USA, Texas Tech)
6 Abby Erceg, 28 (New Zealand)
13 Abby Dahlkemper, 25 (USA, UCLA)
11 Merritt Mathias, 28 (USA, Texas A&M Univ.)
Midfielders
NO. PLAYER, AGE (COUNTRY, COLLEGE)
10 Debinha, 27 (Brazil)
8 Denise O’Sullivan, 24 (Ireland)
5 Samantha Mewis, 25 (USA, UCLA)
19 Crystal Dunn, 25 (USA, Univ. of North Carolina)
Forwards
NO. PLAYER, AGE (COUNTRY, COLLEGE)
9 Lynn Williams, 25 (USA, Pepperdine Univ.)
14 Jessica McDonald, 30 (USA, Univ. of North Carolina)



CHICAGO. In their fourth straight trip to the semifinals, the Red Stars believe they have the weapon to get them to the final for the first time.

Australian international Sam Kerr has had the two best seasons in league history, following up on her record 17 goals in 2017 with 16 this year. What is impressive is that none of Kerr's 16 goals came from the penalty spot, and she won the scoring title again despite missing the first five games of the season because of international commitments with the Matildas.

“I think [Kerr is] just one of those players that’s unstoppable at the moment,” said Courage captain Abby Erceg, a native of New Zealand. "She’s in the top form of her career and she is unstoppable. She’s scoring in almost every single game."

Indeed, she finished with goals in each of her last four games and 11 goals in her last eight games.

Chicago Red Stars probable XI:
Goalkeepers
NO. PLAYER, AGE (COUNTRY, COLLEGE)
1 Alyssa Naeher, 30 (USA, Penn State Univ.)
Defenders
NO. PLAYER, AGE (COUNTRY, COLLEGE)
6 Casey Short, 28 (USA, Florida State Univ.)
8 Julie Ertz, 26 (USA, Santa Clara Univ.)
5 Katie Naughton, 24 (USA, Notre Dame Univ.)
3 Arin Gilliland, 25 (USA, Univ. of Kentucky)
Midfielders
NO. PLAYER, AGE (COUNTRY, COLLEGE)
13 Morgan Brian, 23 (USA, Univ. of Virginia)
24 Danielle Colaprico, 25 (USA, Univ. of Virginia)
10 Vanessa DiBernardo, 26 (USA, Univ. of Illinois)
12 Yuko Nagasato, 31 (Japan)
4 Alyssa Mautz, 29 (USA, Texas A&M Univ.)
Forward
NO. PLAYER, AGE (COUNTRY, COLLEGE)
20 Sam Kerr, 25 (Australia)
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