Courage caps dream season with National Women’s Soccer league title

Carolina's 3-0 victory against Portland was revenge for the Courage's 1-0 loss to the Thorns for last year's championship

Members of the Carolina Courage celebrate their 3-0 victory against the Portland Thorns in Saturday's National Women's Soccer League championship game (Mark Graves/The Oregonian via AP)

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A nearly flawless season came to the perfect end for the Carolina Courage.

Jess McDonald scored two goals and the Courage — which lost just once this year — won the National Women’s Soccer League championship with a 3-0 victory over the Portland Thorns on Saturday.

“It was kind of an all or nothing kind of game, and we just continued our process this season,” McDonald said. “The only thing we wanted to do was improve in today’s game and that’s kind of what we did.”

The victory was a bit of revenge for the Courage, which lost 1-0 to the Thorns in last year’s title match.

The Courage (17-1-6) won the league’s Supporters’ Shield for best record and never dropped a game on the road. The team also set NWSL records this season for the most wins, points and goals.

The match was played before a sellout crowd of 21,144 at Portland’s Providence Park. That was a record for the final of a women’s pro league championship in the United States.

Brazilian Debinha scored on a header in the 13th minute, and McDonald followed with her own in the 40th. Shortly thereafter, Portland goalkeeper Adrianna Franch appeared to tweak her ankle, but she returned for the second half.

Portland came out energized in the second half, but Courage goalkeeper Katelyn Rowland denied a Tobin Heath blast in the 55th minute.

McDonald struck again with a header in the 64th minute that Franch got a hand on but couldn’t stop.

McDonald, a 30-year-old vet who has played for five teams in six years, led the league with eight assists in the regular season. She has three goals in the postseason.

“It feels absolutely amazing. This is what we worked so hard for,” McDonald said. “Every single minute, every single day that we put work into — it counted today,” McDonald said.

Courage coach Paul Riley said he couldn’t imagine a better ending for McDonald, who was named the game’s MVP.

“What a leader she’s been in the locker room, what a leader off the field,” Riley said. “She’s a phenomenal person, Phenomenal player, and to see her get the MVP for the final, it’s just, what a script, you couldn’t write it.”

The Courage defeated the Chicago Red Stars 2-0 on Tuesday night to earn a spot in the championship game. The semifinal match was originally scheduled for last Sunday in North Carolina, but it was moved because of Hurricane Florence.

The move left the Courage without a home playoff game: The NWSL named Providence Park as its championship venue last May. It also meant a shorter turnaround for Saturday’s final.

The Thorns (12-6-6) downed the Seattle Reign 2-1 in their semifinal last Saturday. Portland also won the first NWSL title in 2013. The Thorns are the only team that has been to the title match three times in six years.

“We just couldn’t create that golden opportunity that we usually do to get ourselves back in the game. It’ll take a while but I’m just super proud of the team, the staff, the whole organization. It’s been a great year,” Thorns captain Christine Sinclair said.

The Western New York Flash won the title in 2016. Following that season, the team was relocated to North Carolina.

The Courage also won all three meetings against the Thorns during the regular season.