The end of the season brings some memories we thought were lost and it also brings them to the players' brains. It also brings the results of a long season, full of absences and tight schedules. Tiredness and the urgency to finish the year the best they can and do what hasn’t been done in the previous weeks are the priority.
All of that was compressed in this rivalry match between teams No.1 and 2 of the NWSL. The North Carolina Courage, who have been settled in the last weeks after the World Cup madness, is firing on all cylinders and peaking at the right time. With two more games at hand and getting things done in these last matches, they have the Shield at hand. But why? Wasn’t it Portland Thorns FC who was supposed to win it? Well, yes. If it wasn’t for the bad results they’ve collected in their last two games.
Last week Portland looked disconnected and bad at set pieces and they looked pretty much the same on Wednesday night against the Courage. The difference? The North Carolina Courage means business. They have always meant business and they trample down whoever gets in their way. This time who got in their way was Portland.
The Thorns are a team that relies on their defense to get results and in this oh so very important match “The Wall of Emilies” wasn’t available. Emily Sonnett received a red card last game and was going to miss this one. And although the veteran Kat Reynolds replaced her, she has been dealing with injuries and a lack of minutes during this season. But the result wasn’t just Reynolds responsibility. The truth is the team didn’t look good at all in all their lines (maybe we can spare Hayley Raso here) and the Courage didn’t show mercy.
What is more, Courage head coach Paul Riley subbed out Jessica McDonald at the 75th minute to only sub in Kristen Hamilton. Forward for forward, because who said 5 goals was enough? And that, my friends, is how a champion thinks. A champion never stops, it doesn’t sit waiting for the opponent to make their first move. A champion does the first move and even if it doesn’t seem he’s moving he always has a plan in his mind that keeps him in motion.
A demonstration of character
Portland went 3-0 down at the end of the first half and everybody was expecting to see something different in the second half. Maybe not an epic comeback or even a tie… but we did expect to see a different Portland, a team with a plan. For those of us who expected that we ended up very disappointed.
Portland looked pretty much the same if not worse. The Courage had it too easy and took advantage of the huge holes the Thorns left in between lines and in their defense. To the goals scored by Debinha (15’), Lynn Williams hat trick (21’, 24’, 68’) and Crystal Dunn (61’), Kristen Hamilton reminded Paul Riley why she has to be a starter when she scored in the 89th minute after being subbed in the 75th minute.
On Wednesday night, in front of more than 17,000 fans who were cheering against them, the North Carolina Courage showed who’s boss and dish Portland out their worst defeat in their history. The Courage made a demonstration of character. Something the Portland Thorns have been lacking since last week and was totally absent in this match. Now they have 10 days to lick their wounds and get it together. To show why they can be Championship contenders. Will they be able to recover in time? We’ll see.