It was a bonkers NWSL semifinals weekend. Between the Reign pushing the Courage as far as they could and then some, and the Red Stars trading (metaphorical) blows with the Thorns, you could be forgiven for needing the week-long break before the championship game. But if you need to process those games a little bit more, we’re here for you.
NC Courage vs Reign FC
NC starting XI: Steph Labbe, Jaelene Hinkle, Abby Erceg, Abby Dahlkemper, Heather O’Reilly, Denise O’Sullivan, Sam Mewis, Debinha, Crystal Dunn, Lynn Williams, Jess McDonald
Reign starting XI: Casey Murphy, Steph Catley, Lauren Barnes, Kristen McNabb, Steph Cox, Allie Long, Bethany Balcer, Bev Yanez, Megan Rapinoe, Jodie Taylor, Darian Jenkins
Scoreline: NC Courage 4 - 1 Reign FC
Most underrated player: It’s hard to say any Courage player is underrated when all of them are usually rated pretty correctly as a massive threat. Therefore we turn to the Reign, where perhaps Darian Jenkins most embodied the Reign’s “do the best you can with what you have” season-long ethos. She was in a relatively unfamiliar position at outside mid for the semifinal and was clearly asked to help provide cover for Steph Cox on the right, which she did with guts and gusto. It wasn’t that surprising, though, given how she’s stepped up for the Reign over the course of the season. In fact, our friends at Ride of the Valkyries called Jenkins as a player to watch this year.
MVP: It’s hard when one team dominates, but the other provides a standout individual performance. Casey Murphy was heroic in goal for the Reign, starting from almost literally the first minute until the end of regulation. She arguably kept them in it long enough for Ifeoma Onumonu to score her last-gasp tying goal, forcing the game to extra time. On the Courage side, you could make an argument for a couple of players, although Debinha stands out for the way she took over space and then dropped that game-winning free kick through an unearthly time-space window and into the net. In the end, the heart wants what it wants - my MVP for the match is Casey Murphy.
Chicago Red Stars vs Portland Thorns
Chicago starting XI: Alyssa Naeher, Casey Short, Tierna Davidson, Sarah Gorden, Morgan Brian, Danny Colaprico, Vanessa DiBernardo, Yuki Nagasato, Sam Kerr, Savannah McCaskill
Thorns starting XI: Adrianna Franch, Meghan Klingenberg, Emily Menges, Emily Sonnett, Kat Reynolds, Dagny Brynjarsdottir, Lindsey Horan, Elizabeth Ball, Andressinha, Tobin Heath, Christine Sinclair
Scoreline: Chicago Red Stars 1 - 0 Portland Thorns
Most underrated player: Tierna Davidson was a rock for Chicago. But wait, you say, isn’t she a national team player? How could she be underrated when everyone expects her to be a rock? Well, not exactly. She’s goofed before. She’s extremely young. And she’s not quite close to being USWNT regular starting XI yet, although given her trajectory she will be eventually. Yet she was completely in charge of her space against Portland, and kept them crowded out and locked down, frustrated at every turn while they searched for a way into the 18. It was the steady performance the Red Stars needed.
MVP: Did you blurt out “Sam Kerr” before you even read this? Incorrect. The MVP here is Yuki Nagasato. There is no Sam without Yuki. Well, given who she is, there would be Sam, but less Sam. The point is, Sam Kerr’s best is pushed to new, astonishing heights when she has Nagasato’s best behind her. Nagasato was the Red Stars’ rumbling engine, always thinking of the spaces her teammates were about to occupy, always keeping her head up for the developing play, and doing plenty of defensive work too.
North Carolina Courage vs Chicago Red STars
Sunday, October 27
3:30 PM ET / 12:30 PM PT
Cary, North Carolina