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The Week in Women's Football: NWSL End of Season Review Special

This week we review the fifth regular season of the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) in the United States, and at the end of the review, report on the two NWSL semifinals this weekend.

NWSL End of Season Review

We look back at the NWSL's fifth season, which just completed its regular season schedule on October 1. There are three repeat teams from 2016 in the playoffs: North Carolina—formerly the Western New York Flash—Portland Thorns and Chicago Red Stars, along with a first time participant—the Orlando Pride, after their second half of the season stretch run. The Pride is hosting the NWSL final and wants to play in the match for the first time since the pre-selected championship final host sites were utilized in 2015.

North Carolina Courage—First—16-1-7 for 49 points

The Courage—reigning NWSL champions—won their second regular season title—the NWSL Supporters Shield—in franchise history (after winning the title on goal difference in 2013 over FC Kansas City and Portland), which was a just reward for leading the table for most of the season. Key elements of the side this year included American international midfielder Sam Mewis (6 goals, 3 assists), newcomer Brazilian international midfielder Debinha (4 goals, 2 assists) while rookie Ashley Hatch (Brigham Young University) had seven goals, the most of any rookie this season, along with one assist. Last year's powerful scoring duo of Lynn Williams and Jess McDonald, which helped drive the team into the playoffs in fourth and then stun Portland and Washington to win the crown, were still impactful but were not typically paired up front as frequently as in 2016; Lynn Williams finished with 9 goals and 5 assists, while Jess McDonald contributed 4 goals and 2 assists, but was slowed by a midseason hamstring injury. The Courage had a much more balanced attack in 2017, with the addition of Hatch and Debinha, while even backup forward Kristen Hamilton (ex-Denver University, who joined the Flash in 2014 but lost a season with an ACL) contributed 3 goals and 1 assist, after not scoring in the league in her previous seasons. This side relied mainly on McDonald and Williams in 2016 for their scoring, so the more balanced attack should help the side in the playoffs, as opponents can no longer key on simply quieting those two. The Courage had 38 team goals, tied for fourth in the league. People tended to overlook the fact that the Courage finished with the second best defense in the league with only 22 goals allowed (two more than Portland's 20), but would have won that honor if they had not given up three goals to Orlando in their last regular season game on September 30, a win that allowed Orlando to jump past Chicago into third and avoid meeting the Courage again seven days later in the semifinal round. Their defense was usually comprised of goalkeeper Katelyn Rowland, captain Abby Erceg of New Zealand, American internationals Abby Dahlkemper, Taylor Smith (both ex-UCLA) and Jaelene Hinkle (ex-Texas Tech). Head Coach and Liverpool native Paul Riley has a group that is confident, inspired and very happy with the off-field training situation in North Carolina, run by a second tier NASL men's side in their ideally sized soccer stadium of WakeMed Soccer Park (10,000). Their successful move from Buffalo/Rochester, where players were dissatisfied with the facilities, could be a road map for future relocations for other struggling teams such as FC Kansas City and Seattle (see below).

Portland Thorns—Second—14-5-5 for 47 points

Portland just missed out on two consecutive regular season crowns under Mark Parsons, a former Chelsea assistant coach, since he took over as head coach from Paul Riley after the 2015 season. The Thorns, 2013 League Champions, have made the playoffs every year except for 2015, when injuries decimated a World Cup member heavy squad. This side has a lot of veterans such as Canadian international forward Christine Sinclair (8 goals), U.S. international midfielder Ally Long (2 goals, 1 assist) and U.S. international wing back Megan Klingenberg in defense (6 assists). Impact players this season included former PSG forward and now attacking midfielder Lindsey Horan with 4 tallies and 2 assist while goalkeeper Adrianna France set a league record for shutouts with 11 and a league best Goals Against Average (GAA) of 0.83; France played every minute of the regular season. The Thorns led the league in fewest goals allowed (20), and, along with Klingenburg, received strong seasons from American international Emily Sonnett—in her second year in the league after a stellar career at the University of Virginia (3 goals and 1 assist)— Emily Menges (Georgetown University), a four year veteran in the league, all with Portland—and Kat Reynolds (ex-Santa Clara University, SC Freiburg of Germany and Newcastle Jets in Australia) who only played in 10 games due to a groin injury. Among their European imports. France midfielder Amandine Henry had 3 goals in her second season while Nadia Nadim came back with a second place medal at the 2017 Euros with Denmark and finished with 6 goals and 3 assists. Last week Nadim announced that she is joining Manchester City this winter (see below). On the wing Australian international Haley Raso, who first played for Parsons in Washington in 2015 and then was picked up on waivers by Portland for 2016, had 6 goals and 3 assists. Raso's influence was significant as she played largely as a substitute last season and only tallied 2 assists.Australian international striker Ashleigh Sykes was a late addition this season and scored the winner in the last regular season game, a 3-1 win over Chicago. She has played for Canberra United all 9 seasons at home and played for AS Harima ALBION in Japan's second tier last year.

Stunningly, the side was missing a key player for most of the season—U.S. 2015 World Cup Winner Tobin Heath—who appeared only in the last two games for a total of 75 minutes. Her late season return could be a crucial option as the team tries to win its second crown. The Thorns once again led the league in attendance for women's football with a new NWSL record in their 12 home games for total (211,830) and average (17,653) attendance in the team's fifth season. A sell-out of 21,144 saw the regular season finale against Chicago. The league average attendance was 5,083, a decline from 2016's average of 5,558.

Nadia Nadim's return to Europe will be a loss for the Thorns for next season. She has 74 caps and 22 goals for Denmark. Her family emigrated from Afghanistan to Denmark when she was 12 and she played professionally in Denmark with IK Slovbakken and then Fortuna Hjorring. She then moved to the U.S. in 2014 to play for Sky Blue FC for two seasons before joining Portland; she also maintained her medical school studies part-time in Denmark. Nadim talked about joining Manchester City, the reigning FA Super league champs: "I am so excited to join Manchester City and for me there wasn't really any other choice. Manchester City has done so much for women's football and I want to be a part of the history they are making. Their ambitions to grow the game and win trophies reflect my own and I'm ready for the new challenge, especially when it comes to challenging for the Women's Champions League trophy. The City Football Academy is massive and the knowledge and professionalism of everyone at the club is something I've never seen before. I always want to improve as a player and I'm confident that I can do that here. I only hope I can contribute to helping the whole team achieve even more this season." She will join City in January.

Orlando Pride—Third—11-7-6 for 40 points

The Pride dramatically moved from seventh at the international break (after the third week in July) and went the final 9 games undefeated (6 wins and 3 ties) to vault into a playoff spot, including a dramatic injury time win over North Carolina in their last regular season game, which allowed them to leapfrog over Chicago to capture third. They were the highest scoring side in the league with 45 goals. Brazilian international Marta's move from Sweden showed that she is still world class at 31 years of age, scoring 13 goals and 6 assists to lead the side, followed by American international forward Alex Morgan's 9 goals and 4 assists, who caught fire late in the season with 8 goals and 3 assists coming during the season-ending nine game unbeaten run. 2015 American World Cup team backup Ashlyn Harris came back from a mid-season injury during their late season unbeaten streak (1.22 GAA in 12¼ games) but Audrey Bledsoe (ex-Wake Forest

who played briefly for Bode in Norway and Fortuna Hjorring in Denmark) did well as a replacement (1.36 GAA in 15 games).

Brazilian international Camilla had 4 goals and 5 assists while Australian international defender Alanna Kennedy (who was moved up to midfield during the season) finished with 4 goals and 1 assist, including a fantastic free kick goal from just outside of the box in injury time to give Orlando a crucial 3-2 win over North Carolina on the road on September 30. That result saw Orlando finish in third and sent them to Portland for the semifinals rather than a return engagement with North Carolina the next week. Jasmine Spencer, so potent in her winter campaigns in Australia, contributed 3 goals and 4 assists. The Pride's late season run and attractive play allowed them to make the playoffs in only their second year, which should be a message to the 4 year old Houston Dash that an expansion team can indeed be competitive quickly; we are still waiting for the Dash to coalesce their organization both on and off the field.

Chicago Red Stars—Fourth—11-6-7 for 39 points

The Red Stars made the playoffs for the third consecutive year, but missed a chance to host a semifinal, which only the top two teams do. This team is always strong in the back with U.S. international Alyssa Naeher in goal (1.14 GAA) and the team allowed only 30 goals in total on the season, tied for the third best total in the league with Kansas City. Two other 2015 World Cup winners had strong seasons as Julie Ertz moved to midfield from defense with good effect (4 goals and 3 assists ) while forward Christen Press had 11 goals and 4 assists to lead the side. Sofia Huerta, who played internationally for Mexico but was just allowed by FIFA to play for the Americans, finished with 6 goals and 4 assists. Casey Short (ex-Florida State international who played in Norway with Avaldsnes IL) has had a fine season in defense while another U.S. international midfielder Morgan Brian, a World Cup winner in 2015, was a late season pickup from Houston, but was not expected to play in the semifinal due to a hamstring injury; she still was a brilliant long-term pickup. The Red Stars were mid-table (sixth) on goals scored (33) and their reliance on Press and Huerta could be a problem in the postseason. Japanese import Yuki Nagasato only played 6 games as she was hampered by a knee injury, but had one goal and 2 assists, and should be a strong asset in 2018 in an attacking-midfielder role.

Seattle Reign—Fifth—9-7-8 for 34 points

Head Coach Laura Harvey's side missed the playoffs for the second consecutive season. One gets the feeling that this side had difficulty getting past Kim Little's departure and has been in a bit of a funk since she returned to Arsenal after the 2016 season. Seattle dropped a crucial 5 points in two late games, a 1-1 tie in Orlando on September 9 and a home loss to Kansas City on September 24, which eliminated their chance to jump into the playoff frame. American international Megan Rapinoe had a fantastic year (12 goals, 1 assist in 18 games) but missing some games late in the season and that hurt Seattle down the stretch, which lost five of their final nine games, with one tie. Welsh international midfielder Jess Fishlock is still outstanding in midfield as a leader of this side since it started in 2013. The only 100 caps player in Welsh soccer history finished with 7 goals and 2 assists. Japanese World Cup Winner in 2011 Naho Kawasumi of Japan had another stellar season with 6 goals and 9 assists. Mexican international Katie Johnson, who won a College Cup last season at USC, had 4 goals and 2 assists as a rookie, while veteran forward Bev Yanez chipped in 4 goals and 1 assist. The Reign scored 43 goals for the second best offense in the league but surrendered 37, the fourth highest total in the NWSL. Defensive frailties hurt them in the last minutes in some crucial games. Scottish international and 2017 European Championship defender Rachel Corsie was important in the back but played only 14 of 24 games with her international commitments. New Zealand international Rebekah Stott started most of the season in her first year in NWSL. Australian international forward Larissa Crummer played less than one game in 4 appearances all season (47 minutes), joining from Melbourne City with a broken foot she received late in the Westfield W League season. Crummer scored the tying goal against Washington Spirit on the road in their last game and then supplied the key pass into the box for Fishlock's winner (3-2)

Defender Ellie Reed retired after playing only 3 games this season. Reed, who joined the Reign in 2013 as a free agent, has played in all five NWSL seasons with Seattle. She has appeared in 78 matches for the club, making 60 starts. Reed said: "My five years with the Reign have been incredible and I will never forget them. But it feels like the right time to move on and start the next chapter of my life. I am ready to settle down and focus on challenging myself and growing in new ways." Head coach Laura Harvey had nothing but great things to say about Reed: "Elli's been here since day one, and I can't talk highly enough of what she's meant to this club. She's a fantastic teammate, and proven that all the way through. Whether she's played every minute, come off the bench, or not seen time, she's never changed. That's a testament to who she is." Prior to her time in Seattle, Reed began her playing career for the Boston Breakers in the WPS after being drafted as the No.8 overall pick in the 2011 WPS Draft from the University of Portland. Reed also spent some time playing abroad for FCR 2001 Duisburg in the German Frauen-Bundesliga in 2012, Sweden's Kristianstads DDF in 2013, and in Australia with the W-League's Melbourne Victory for their 2014 season.

Some rumors are making the rounds that the Seattle Reign ownership, who were new to the sport and team management in 2013, are having some financial difficulties and that the Reign might move or even fold. The potential in Seattle is massive; their MLS franchise the Seattle Sounders consistently attracts over 30,000 a game and over 50,000 for crucial games and internationals but the Reign has struggled to carve out a strong market presence despite playing in Memorial Stadium, a centrally located facility literally in the shadow of the iconic Space Needle. The stadium, an old high school football field that was built in 1947 which the original NASL Sounders used as a home for two seasons in 1974 and 1975, has poor AstroTurf and narrow sightlines but is well known to soccer fans. The Reign, in spite of head coach Laura Harvey's good work on the field, needs improved marketing for a long term vision to help grow the women's game just three hour's drive up the road from Portland, which attracted over four times the crowd (Seattle averaged 4,037 in 2017 to Portland's 17,653) even though the city is half the size (2.3 million for Portland's metropolitan area population versus 4.6 million in Seattle).

Sky Blue FC—Sixth—10-3-11 for 33 points

The surprise of the season became a bit of a train wreck towards the end as they slipped out of the playoffs after midseason. Northern Irish coach Christie Holly resigned and the team was coached by committee, with 42-year-old defender Christie Rampone thought to be waiting in the wings. While this was going on, Sam Kerr continued to blaze the nets, finishing with 17 goals and 4 assists to set the league record for goals in a season, surpassing the 16 goals that Kim Little scored in Seattle in 2014. Kerr also holds the league record for career goals now at 43, 4 ahead of Little's 39. Kerr also led the league for offsides with 38, with Chicago's Christen Press second with 30. Kerr scored 4 goals, even missing a penalty, against Seattle in a 5-4 come from behind win on August 19. Maya Hayes, the ex-Penn State University, 2012 U.S. U-20 World Cup winner and four year veteran of Sky Blue, contributed 5 goals and 4 assists and English national team pool member Leah Galton had 2 tallies and 1 assist in 16 games. Sarah Killion, a U.S. youth and senior international midfielder had 5 goals—4 of which are penalty kicks—and 2 assists, with all of her goals coming in the first six games of the season. US 2015 World Cup winner Kelley O'Hara had 4 goals and 3 assists from defense and second year Costa Rican international Raquel Rodriguez contributed 4 goals. Midfielder Tayler Lytle (ex-Texas Tech and a five year veteran of the side) was effective as a holding midfielder and contributed 5 assists as did Daphne Corboz. Corboz played her first season in NWSL after two seasons with Manchester City and will go on loan to FC Fleury 91 in France's Division 1 Feminine, the club that was just promoted this season from Division 2.

Sky Blue scored 16 goals in the final 15 minutes this season and could never be counted out of any game. They had some classic comebacks, including the 5-4 win over Seattle above and scored 4 goals when down 4-0 in the second half in Seattle on July 22 before losing 5-4; the Breakers came back from 2-0 down in the second half to win 3-2 in their final regular season match at Boston on September 30. The third best offense in the league showed their gun-shooting approach offensively (42 goals versus 45 for Orlando and 43 for Seattle) but their defense was worst in the league with 51 goals allowed, three more than joint bottom side Washington (48).

The club has a good base to build on for next year but really needs to shore up their defense.Canadian international goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan (ex-Clemson University) had 2 shutouts and a 2.14 goals against average in a starting role as a rookie—a rare occurrence in any top league—but she had some strong games and was third in the league in saves with 83. If Kerr can continue her amazing scoring and leadership and Galton or another teammate can contribute 6-8 goals while Sheridan and the backline improves, their flirtation with the playoffs in 2017 could become reality in 2018. They were the most entertaining team to watch by far this season and Kerr most likely will be named NWSL Player of the Year and deserves the FIFA Award for her play in NWSL, with the national side and Perth Glory in the Westfield W-League (though she was not one of the three finalists in the popular vote—an absolute scandal). The FIFA finalists are Venezuela's Denya Castellanos (Florida State University and UWS Santa Clarita Blue Heat), Lieke Martins (Netherlands and Barcelona after leaving Rosengard this summer) and Carli Lloyd (U.S. and Houston Dash)—for what we are not really sure but certainly not for her play in 2017, 2015 perhaps. Kerr's attacking forays and passing at Sky Blue was breathtaking at times, along with dynamic performances with the Matildas who are certainly among the top three sides in the world this year, and it is unfortunate that the FIFA vote was done entirely by popular vote. Martins hopefully will win based on her club play after winning the European Championship this summer. This season's team performance is definitely one to build on for next season and Sky Blue became a popular side among neutrals with their open play for this New Jersey-based team that has acted for years as a New York City regional franchise.

FC Kansas City—Seventh 9-6-9 for 33 points.

This side has missed the playoffs for the last two years but Vlatko Andonovski deserves another season as head coach after winning the league crown in 2014 and 2015. Defense was strong as always and the Blues finished tied with the Chicago for the third best defense in the league with 30 goals, but had the third fewest goals scored in the league (29). Ever present in goal all season was five year Blues veteran and former U.S. international Nicole Barnhart, who surpassed 100 NWSL games during the season and finished with a solid 1.29 GAA. Becky Sauerbrunn and Rebecca Moros had solid years on the defensive line. Christina Gibbons (ex-University of Duke) did well as a rookie with 1 goal and 3 assists as a starter after some early season struggles, expected as a rookie adjusting to the professional game, particularly after she was moved into the midfield. New Zealand international Katie Bowen (ex-University of North Carolina) had 2 goals and 1 assist while Maegan Kelly (ex-Marquette University in Milwaukee) was a revelation this season with 5 goals and 1 assist, after playing in the past in Cyprus, Finland and Iceland. U.S. 2015 World Cup winner Sydney Leroux had 6 goals and 2 assists after missing 2016 on maternity leave. Canadian international Desiree Scott (ex-Notts County) is still a factor in midfield as the grafter, contributing 2 assists in 21 games from her deep lying position. Forward Shea Groom (ex-Texas A&M) had 5 goals and 6 assists and has shown that she is a lead forward on this side but needs better service. 2015 World Cup winner Amy Rodriguez is expected to return from an ACL tear for 2018 but this team needs more scoring and a qualified import on the forward line would be a definite upgrade. They made a strong run late in the season with only one loss in eight games (with 5 wins) and it lifted them well above the last three sides, but it was not good enough in a very competitive league.

One can't help but wonder if a little more stability and a permanent home off the field with a larger capacity and better facilities would help this franchise. On one nationally televised game, their pitch looked scorched in the corners and was an embarrassment; the cause was apparently due to the ground being oversaturated. FC Kansas was dead last in the league with an average gate of 1,788. This team might not survive in Kansas City if teams are sold or culled, which for a franchise with two league titles, would be sad and a missed opportunity in the market. Folding teams should be an absolute last step for the league as 20 players would lose jobs as well as coaches and administrative staff.

Houston Dash—Eighth 7-2-15 for 23 points

Despite showing some life when head coach Omar Morales took over after Randy Waldrum was fired at the end of May, with a 6 match unbeaten run during late June/July, the club tailed off and lost seven of its last nine games (with 1 win and 1 tie) and finds itself near the bottom of the table again. Morales probably has done enough to warrant another year and goalkeeper Jane Campbell has been outstanding at times, so much so that starting Australian international goalkeeper Lydia Williams was sent to Seattle late in the season. The Dash's problem is scoring, finishing at the bottom of the league with only 22 goals. You know things are dire when the leading scorer is Brazilian defender Poliana (4 goals 1 assist). Morgan Brian was traded for Kristie Mewis, who showed quality in her initial appearances at the end of the season. South African national team captain Van Wyk has had a strong season in defense, playing in 17 games, as did Brazilian midfielder Andressinha (2 goals 3 assist). American international Carli Lloyd has been hurt at times and missed early games playing with Manchester City in England, but 2 goals and 0 assists in 8 games is not good enough. Kealia Ohai (2 goals and 2 assists in 10 games) had an appalling drop off in production from last season's 11 goals and 4 assists when she tied for the Golden Boot with Lynn Williams. English international Rachel Daly did well with 5 goals and 2 assists in her second season. Canadian international Nichelle Prince had a good rookie season with 3 goals and 1 assist and paired with fellow Canadian Olympic Bronze medalist Janine Beckie (2 goals and 1 assist), they should have a promising future together. They team does need a go-to scorer for 8-10 goals—we thought it was Ohai and it still could be. The Dash touted that they matched a club record for points in a season with 23 but again, that's not good enough in this league.

This MLS-owned team has never been seen in the same light as Portland, and Orlando and that's because it feels like the women's side is an afterthought, particularly when attending a Dynamo and then a Dash game on consecutive days, with a decided lack of atmosphere; mid-afternoon start times in Houston for the Dash just don't work in the summer, though their attendance of 4,578 was third in the league. They played two games outside of the city (Dallas and Edinburg, Texas) due to the flooding from Hurricane Harvey that slammed the city and surrounding area.

Boston Breakers—Tied for Ninth—4-7-13 for 19 points

The Breakers were another team with scoring issues, tallying only 24 goals all season to rank ninth ahead only of Houston. Rookies have gained experience and hopefully Matt Beard has one more season as head coach (but that could go either way). The scoring has come almost exclusively from English international Natasha Dowie (7 goals and 2 assists), Canadian international Adriana Leon (5 goals, 4 assists) and New Zealand's Rosie White (ex-UCLA and Liverpool) with 4 goals and 1 assist. They went 10 games between wins (with 4 ties) on July 1 and September 23, both over Washington. In the latter game, Boston triumphed thanks to a Dowie goal from a Leon assist and two own goals by Washington's Kasey Kallman within a minute. Rose Lavelle (2 goals and 1 assist) played in less than half of her team's games due to an injury but is a franchise type of player. Goalkeeper Abby Smith, a national team pool player and second year Breaker who went to the University of Texas, had a good season with a GAA 1.68 despite being under siege for most of the season. Players such as defender Megan Oyster, who has been capped at the full international level by the Americans and came over from Washington Spirit in the offseason, veteran Breaker defender Julie King (ex-Auburn University) along with rookie midfielder Morgan Andrews (who won a College Cup last season at USC) and rookie forward Margaret Purce (ex-Harvard University) with 1 goal and 2 assists in 22 games, are pieces to build around but unfortunately Matt Beard's rebuilding effort is not over and he needs more scoring out of midfield in addition to Rosie White's input

Forward Emilie Haavi of Norway, who missed much of the season with injury received in the Breakers preseason camp, underperformed with Norway at the EUROs—as did most of her teammates—and she needed to start impacting the offense more late in the season and she probably won't be back for 2018.

This is another team that reporters have concerns about, in terms of continuing on in the future. They play at Harvard University on a poor artificial turf field and without many amenities, though players feel that management does make a strong effort to take care of them. In a city with professional men's baseball, American football, basketball and hockey teams, the Breakers—members of all 3 American professional teams—continue to struggle for a presence in the city, currently being lumped as one radio correspondent referred to into a category of "trash sports" including lacrosse, rugby and other sports—both men's and women's—which are somehow beneath the big four North American sports and less important in the American sports scene. Of course we disagree, but soccer bashers have their opinions and we have heard it for years.

Washington Spirit—Tied for Ninth—5-4-15 for 19 points

After losing the championship game last season on penalties, this season seemed like an unmitigated disaster but there were some positives. Canadian international Stephane Labbe won her starting job back, which she lost when she returned from the Olympics last summer, but took a personal leave of absence late in the season. DiDi Haracic (ex-Loyola University of Maryland) played in the last 7 games, giving up 18 goals for a GAA of 2.57, with only one win and six losses. Caprice Dydasco (ex-UCLA) came back from an ACL tear in the 2016 championship game and played well in 16 games. Denmark EUROs finalist Line Jensen had 1 goal and 1 assist in 9 games and could be back for 2018. Havana Solaun came to Washington from Seattle last November and added 5 goals and 3 assists. Mallory Pugh left UCLA and finished with 6 goals and 1 assist in 15 games—showing that she is definitely the future of this franchise. Francisca Ordega of Nigeria had 4 goals and 3 assists and Cheyna Williams (ex-Florida State) had 5 goals and 1 assist in her second season with Washington.The biggest question hanging over this club is whether or not head coach Jim Gabarra will be back; I would bet not. Scoring was solid for the Spirit but their defense was leaky, second worse to Sky Blue FC. Their goal difference between goals scored (30) and goals allowed (48) -18 is the worst in the league and left them at the bottom of the league on goal difference; a shocking turnaround from last season's loss in the Championship Final on penalty kicks.

Semifinal Results

On October 7, host Portland Thorns defeated Orlando Pride 4-1, to qualify for their second ever NWSL Final, after their win in the league's inaugural year of 2013. Amandine Henry of France and American Emily Sonnett scored goals within the first 15 minutes as the Thorns overwhelmed Orlando. Alanna Kennedy, an Australian international, scored on a headed ball from Toni Pressley, who flicked on a cross from a short corner kick in the 23rd minute to cut the deficit in half. Her Australian international teammate Haley Raso and Canadian international Christine Sinclair scored late in the second half to seal the win for Portland. The semifinal attracted 18,193 fans to the early afternoon match.

On October 8, in a tight battle, Republic of International Denise O'Sullivan scored her first goal of the season in the 89th minute to give the North Carolina Courage a 1-0 win over Chicago Red Stars. The Courage returns to the championship game for the second consecutive year while the Red Starts have failed to advance from the semifinals for the third consecutive year. The Red Stars had defeated the Courage in all three regular season games this year. On Saturday, October 14 in Orlando, Portland Thorns and the North Carolina Courage will face off, with both sides trying to capture their second NWSL season. It should be a fascinating match, as the two sides finished first and second during the regular season.

Tim Grainey is a contributor to Tribal Football. His latest book Beyond Bend it Like Beckham on the global game of women's football. Get your copy today.

Follow Tim on Twitter: @TimGrainey

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