Red Stars fall to Courage 4-0 in NWSL championship game

The Courage took an early lead and never looked back, giving them back-to-back NWSL titles. They also became the first team to win a league title on their home field.

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The Red Stars’ Nikki Stanton embraces Yuki Nagasato after the team’s loss to the North Carolina Courage in the NWSL championship game Sunday in Cary, N.C.

The Red Stars’ Nikki Stanton embraces Yuki Nagasato after the team’s loss to the North Carolina Courage in the NWSL championship game Sunday in Cary, N.C.

Karl B DeBlaker/AP

CARY, N.C. — The National Women’s Soccer League championship had the makings of a storybook ending for the Red Stars’ season, but the North Carolina Courage wrote the final chapter.

The Courage took an early lead and never looked back en route to a 4-0 victory, giving them back-to-back NWSL titles. They also became the first team to win a league title on their home field.

“I thought I would never drink champagne again after the World Cup,” Courage midfielder Sam Mewis said. “Needless to say, I probably will.”

The Red Stars were on the ball for most of the first 10 minutes of play. Other than a goal in the fourth minute from the Courage’s Debinha, the game’s MVP, the Red Stars were in control.

But the Courage quickly proved difficult to contain when Jessica McDonald scored in the 26th minute.

“We knew the key to the game was going to be defensive transition,” Red Stars coach Rory Dames said. “I think when we go back and watch, we’ll probably be pretty disappointed with the first two goals.”

The dagger came just before the half when Crystal Dunn capitalized on a give-and-go between Debinha and Mewis that nearly was broken up by Julie Ertz. But a collision between goalie Alyssa Naeher and Ertz left the net open, allowing Dunn to make it 3-0. Dunn had to scramble to get back on her feet after initially colliding with Ertz.

“Going up two-nil is a nice feeling,” the Courage’s Heather O’Reilly said. “Two-nil is actually still kind of a dangerous score line. I have so much faith in our team, that was a little bit of a sense of relief. Then for Crystal to kind of scrap and claw and get that one before half, that was beautiful.”

O’Reilly was replaced in the 89th minute for the final time in her 17-year national and club team career. She walked off to a standing ovation from the sellout crowd of 10,227.

The Red Stars came out firing in the second half, but the Courage were able to shut them down. The Courage had prioritized containing league MVP Sam Kerr and Yuki Nagasato.

“I think the epitome of the game for me was when Lynn Williams chased down Sam Kerr midway through the first half,” Courage coach Paul Riley said. “I think that said a lot about our team. We all pitched in today to stop her from receiving balls.”

Although the score might not reflect it, Ertz and Naeher came through on stops that could have made the final a lot more lopsided.

As the Courage accepted their medals and raised the championship trophy, the Red Stars stood to the side of the stage, watching amid the falling confetti.

The disappointment was palpable, but Dames and his players already were looking to next season.

“We proved to ourselves that we can get here,” Vanessa DiBernardo said. “We’ve been in the semifinals often, but we’ve never gotten over that hump. Now, this is a new hump for us to get over.”

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