The 2018 NWSL Championship is a rematch of the 2017 edition, with the North Carolina Courage taking on Portland Thorns FC. Both teams finished in 1st and 2nd respectively, just like last year, and both teams are the best two teams in the NWSL when it comes to the eyeball test. This time, though the Courage are technically the “home” team due to being the higher seed, this game will be played in Portland in front of a huge crowd that really, really doesn’t like anything about the Courage.
Let’s hope that’s not the only difference. Last year’s final, for those that remember, was marred by physical play that completely obliterated any semblance of actual soccer. You know a game isn’t a good one when it’s mostly remembered for tackles that injured people. These teams really, genuinely dislike one another, but they’re also probably better with the ball this year than in 2017. Let’s hope this game is less about hostility and more about the outstanding soccer these sides can produce.
Location: Providence Park (Portland, OR)
Kickoff time: 4:30pm Eastern
Projected Courage starting 11: (4222) - Sabrina D’Angelo; Merritt Mathias, Abby Dahlkemper, Abby Erceg, Jaelene Hinkle; Samantha Mewis, Denise O’Sullivan; Crystal Dunn, Debinha; Jess McDonald, Lynn Williams
First of all, this is just a breathtaking team. Even without McCall Zerboni (who will miss out with a broken elbow), this is one of the best lineups assembled in club woso history. Paul Riley’s box midfield often ends up playing as an ad hoc 4231, as both of his strikers float out wide to hit crosses from near the endline. At the back, you have 2 NWSL Best XI defenders, a Second XI right back, and a left back who plenty of folks couldn’t bring themselves to vote for but is pretty universally seen as the best at her position in the league on a purely soccer basis. Zerboni and Dunn were also in the Best XI, while Williams and Debinha were in the Second XI.
All that said, Zerboni was their most plausible MVP candidate, and her absence as a ball-winner looms against a Thorns side that has so much talent in central midfield. If O’Sullivan is out-worked, Portland might be able to put the Courage under sustained pressure.
Projected Thorns starting 11: (4231) - Adrianna Franch; Ellie Carpenter, Emily Sonnett, Emily Menges, Meghan Klingenberg; Celeste Boureille, Lindsey Horan; Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic, Christine Sinclair, Tobin Heath; Caitlin Foord
Portland’s lineup may not be quite so stacked as NC’s, but the parts fit together perfectly. They also had 4 Best XI players (Franch, Sonnett, Heath, and Horan, who was also the league MVP), while Sinclair and Menges made the Second XI. There’s one question mark with Portland today, though, as the starter on the right wing is unclear. Crnogorcevic, nominally a striker, is paradoxically the more defensively solid option due to her tactical sense and work rate. Maryland native Midge Purce, an out-and-out winger whose speed could really trouble Hinkle, is the other contender. Against Seattle, Purce got the start, but Mark Parsons brought Crnogorcevic on at halftime.
If there’s a weak point here, it may be Carpenter, the extremely talented but inexperienced right back. We could well see Riley have Dunn and Debinha switch spots to get Dunn closer to Carpenter, and you can bet that a crafty veteran like McDonald will be trying to get over there as well.
Referee: Guido Gonzales
Available TV: Lifetime
we our friends have to say about it?: Stumptown Footy previewed the game and took note of a loose, confident Portland side at media day. Over at Diry South Soccer, there’s a Courage-centric preview as well as a piece on Hinkle, who will probably be the least-popular player in the building today.
What are you drinking?: I’ve been eyeing up the last can of ginger beer in my fridge. Dark & Stormy? Mezcal Mule? Something with ginger beer and lime, anyway.
This is the place for all your pre-game, in-game, and post-game discussion.