The Red Stars are in the NWSL playoffs for the fourth consecutive season. But they don’t want to do something else again for the fourth consecutive season: lose in the semifinals and miss a chance to play for a league championship.
In a match scheduled for Sunday, the Red Stars have a chance to punch their ticket to the title game for the first time in NWSL history when they face the first-place North Carolina Courage, who eliminated them last year.
“We’ve been waiting to get back to this game for a year, regardless of who we are playing,” Red Stars coach Rory Dames said. “The fact that we get to go back to North Carolina and play them again, I think the players are excited about it.”
Because of Hurricane Florence, it’s possible the match could be moved from the Courage’s home stadium in Cary, North Carolina, to another venue and/or another date. In a statement released Wednesday, the league said it was monitoring the forecast, and that teams “continue to explore all options and scenarios” that would keep the game in front of North Carolina’s fans. An announcement will be made as soon as “reasonably possible.”
Regardless of when and where the match is played, it represents an opportunity for the Red Stars to pull off an upset.
Understandably, Dames isn’t looking at the past, but it might not be the same way for the players who have experienced those previous postseason exits.
“Each year is a new team, right? There are players on our team that weren’t a part of that or weren’t a part of any of them,” Dames said. “We don’t look back. The players that have been here still might. Obviously, it might be a little bit different for them. As a group, we’re focused on the team that we have this year and what we’re doing this year, and what went on last year doesn’t have anything to do with that.”
Getting back to the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season has been no small feat. And maybe after the season, Dames and his team will reflect on what that means.
“It’s the toughest league in the world by far, so to be able to get into the top four four years in a row is a credit to everybody,” Dames said. “But as I said, our focus is on getting beyond that and what we need to do with North Carolina and how we need to approach them. They’re an incredible team, and anything we’re thinking and doing needs to be going towards them and trying to figure out how to beat them, and nothing else.”