Denise O’Sullivan Lifts NC Courage to NWSL Championship
The North Carolina Courage will take on Portland Thorns FC in the 2017 NWSL Championship after edging the Chicago Red Stars in the semifinals on Sunday. Thorns FC defeated the Orlando Pride in the first semifinal match on Saturday with a dominant 4-1 victory in Portland.
Related Article: Orlando Pride Lost Semifinal to Thorns FC
NWSL Soccer News: The North Carolina Courage are headed to the NWSL Championship after defeating the Chicago Red Stars, 1-0, led by a late game-winning goal from Denise O’Sullivan. The Courage will face off against Portland Thorns FC in the NWSL Championship on October 14th at Orlando City Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled at 4:30 p.m. ET. The match will air on Lifetime.
The crowd of 10,017 at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park was an attendance record for their first campaign in North Carolina. It’s the first-ever playoff match for the Courage after winning the championship last year as the Western New York Flash before relocating to North Carolina.
O’Sullivan scored in the 89th minute after her shot deflected off the shin of Red Stars midfielder Julie Ertz and past Alyssa Naeher for the game-winning goal.
Sam Mewis’ initial service from a corner was won in the air and headed away from goal by her teammate Jessica McDonald, but O’Sullivan was looming at the top of the 18-yard box and struck it towards goal.
“The first thing on my mind was, ‘I want to score this.’ It bounced in front of me and I just hit it as hard as I could. To be honest, I didn’t think I could score from the edge of the box or even make it that far,” said O’Sullivan. “I didn’t think I could actually hit a ball that hard to be honest.”
O’Sullivan joined the Courage in the middle of the season after being waived by Houston. Sunday’s game was just her 8th match with North Carolina and her first goal with her new club.
“Playing in the American league is something I’ve always wanted to do and the league is great so I wanted to stay here,” said O’Sullivan. “The minute he phoned me and said there’s an option for me in the midfield to play there. … I went a few days later, so here I am.”
In stoppage time, Naeher came into the offensive half of the field to take a free kick, which she sent into the box as Chicago pushed everyone forward. In a bit of chaos in front of the goal, her service bounced over Courage goalkeeper Katelyn Rowland but was headed off the line and out of danger by Mewis.
“Sam just stepped up. Everyone wanted to kiss her forehead,” said Courage defender Taylor Smith. “It just shows everyone is willing to put their body on the line and it’s a great mentality to have.”
The whistle blew moments later and the Courage escaped with their 13th shutout of the season and yet another 1-0 victory. They allowed just one shot on goal to the Red Stars in the game.
It’s the third straight semifinal loss for the Red Stars, who fell last season in extra time to the Spirit and the year before to FC Kansas City.
“Rory [Dames] just said we gotta take it to the next level,” said Red Stars defender Casey Short. “We didn’t keep it enough. That’s a new gear that we need to have for next season.”
The Courage will be looking to become the first NWSL Shield winners to ever win an NWSL Championship. They’ll face Portland Thorns FC on Saturday at Orlando City Stadium in Orlando, Florida.
Header Photo Credit: Andy Mead/ISI Photos