NWSL Playoffs: Red Stars end postseason misery

On their fifth try, the Chicago Red Stars finally won their first NWSL playoff game, knocking off the Portland Thorns, 1-0, in front of 9,218 fans at SeatGeek Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

Chicago moved into the 2019 championship game next Sunday at the defending champion North Carolina, a 4-1 winner over Reign FC in the other semifinal.

A goal in the eighth minute was all the Red Stars would need, and it came from Sam Kerr -- who else? -- on a counterattack triggered by Japanese Yuki Nagasato.

Kerr has won the league's Golden Boot the last three seasons and scored a league-record 18 goals in 2019, but it was her first NWSL playoff goal.

Portland had several chances to equalize in the second half, but Chicago goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher made stops on Tobin Heath in the 49th minute, Hayley Raso in the 63rd minute and Midge Purce in the 83rd minute.

The Thorns failed in a bid to return to the championship game for the third year in a row, succumbing to scoring drought that plagued them in the late stages of the season. They finished with one goal in their last six games.

Oct. 20 in Bridgeview, Ill.
Chicago 1 Portland 0. Goal: Kerr 8.
Chicago -- Naeher, Gorden, Ertz, Davidson, Short, Brian, Colaprico, McCaskill (Naughton, 76), DiBernardo, Nagasato, Kerr.
Portland -- Franch, Ball (Raso, 46), Sonnett, Menges, Reynolds, Klingenberg (Foord, 81), Horan, Brynjarsdottir, Andressinha (Purce, 67), Sinclair, Heath
Att.: 9,218.

The North Carolina Courage is headed back to the final for the third time in as many years -- four years in a row if you include when it was the Western New York Flash -- after rallying for three goals in overtime to beat Reign FC.

Heather O’Reilly put the Courage ahead with a penalty kick in the 88th minute, but Reign FC’s Ifeoma Onumonu equalized three minutes into stoppage time.

The Courage recovered from the shock equalizer to score on goals from Brazilian midfielder Debinha, who was celebrating her 28th birthday, an own goal by Reign FC’s Lauren Barnes and U.S. forward Crystal Dunn past Reign FC goalkeeper Casey Murphy, who finished with 11 saves.

The match could have been the last for Reign coach Vlatko Andonovski, the front-runner to fill the U.S. women's national team vacancy.

Oct. 20 in Cary, N.C.
NC Courage 4 Reign FC 1. Goals: O’Reilly pen. 88, Debinha 99, own goal 105+1, Dunn 108; Onumonu 90+3.
NC Courage -- Labbe; Hinkle, Erceg, Dahlkemper, O’Reilly; O’Sullivan (Zerboni 102), Mewis (Roccaro 109); Debinha, Dunn; Williams (Spetsmark 112), McDonald (Hamilton 96).
Reign FC -- Murphy; Cox (Groom 90), McNabb, Barnes, Catley; Long, Yanez, Balcer (Jimenez 63); Jenkins (Nielsen, 105), Taylor (Onumonu 80), Rapinoe.
Att.: 7,422.
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