Six months ago, on April 13, the North Carolina Courage and Chicago Red Stars stepped onto the pitch at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park to kick off the 2019 NWSL Season. Goals from Sam Kerr and Crystal Dunn split the points between the sides.
Half a year, twenty-three games, and one playoff semifinal later, both clubs will collide yet again for a league title.
“I didn’t even think about how this comes full circle,” Red Stars defender Katie Naughton said. “That’s incredible that we’re starting here and ending here, regardless of the result. North Carolina is a top-tier team; one of the best in the world, if not the best. To compete against them, showcase our talents as we’ve strived to do, and ultimately win that game… it’s going to be amazing and I know we’re all looking forward to it.”
Chicago stayed perfect against the Courage throughout the season – winning both matchups after the season-opening draw. It was results like those that drove the Red Stars to finally overcome the semifinal hump and make their first final after four consecutive losses in the round prior.
“I can’t even put into words the feeling we had after beating Portland last weekend,” Chicago midfielder Nikki Stanton said. “This is the ultimate goal for each team, this is where each team wants to be, and now we’re here. For me, it’s my sixth season in the league, second with the Red Stars, and I’ve always wanted to be here. It’s the thing that sometimes you think you’re never going to get to, and now we’re here. It’s an amazing feeling and we’re all really excited.”
For the Courage, this is business as usual – many players on their roster are heading to their fourth consecutive final, dating back to the Western New York Flash’s title run in 2016. But that hardly means the Courage aren’t ready for anything.
“We have a lot of experience, especially with this group,” Courage midfielder McCall Zerboni said. “This is my eighth final in eleven years. But they [Chicago] have a lot of experience in different stages as well, on the world stage. Sometimes it’s on the day, who’s the better team on the day, and that’s what makes football even. That’s what makes it exciting. I believe in my squad, and we have a really good history and reputation with this.”
While his team has had success in big moments in the past, North Carolina coach Paul Riley knows the final will be no easy task.
“They’re a dangerous team with a lot of attributes, great coach, well-organized team,” he said. “They cause us problems every year – it’s not a team we have great success against, look at our history against them. It’s a big challenge for us, the staff and the players, to get it done this weekend.”
North Carolina takes on Chicago at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park this Sunday, October 27, at 3:30 p.m. ET. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN.