Sports

NC Courage completes historic season with NWSL title

North Carolina Courage celebrates their first goal during the final of the 2018 Women’s International Champions Cup against Olympique Lyonnais at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla. on Sunday, July 29, 2018.
North Carolina Courage celebrates their first goal during the final of the 2018 Women’s International Champions Cup against Olympique Lyonnais at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla. on Sunday, July 29, 2018. TNS

Paul Riley’s mantra for the NC Courage is “no finish line,” which actually has a degree of applicability to a surprisingly large number of situations.Just not the one his team finds itself in now.

It’s a team that literally has nothing left to win. It has won everything. It has had the best season any professional women’s soccer team has ever had in the United States. The Courage beat every team in the league, won the regular-season title, beat two of the best teams in the world and now, Saturday, won the NWSL championship. On the road and on short rest, no less, 3-0over the Portland Thorns.

Where do you go from here? Where do you set the finish line when there are no more finish lines to cross? These are questions Riley, the outspoken Courage coach, will have the offseason to ponder at his leisure.

After the disappointment of losing to the Thorns in last season’s title game,the Courage has been a relentless machine, losing once in 24 NWSL games, beating Paris St. Germain and Lyon in the inaugural Women’s International Challenge Cup in Miami – with flair, aplomb and ease,and even if it was preseason for the French teams, you’d think the fear of being embarrassed by the Americans would be motivation enough– and dispatching their playoff competition handily despite being forced to play their semifinal in Portland instead of in front of a sold-out crowd in Cary thanks to some badly botched contingency planning by the NWSL in the wake of Hurricane Florence.

Maybe the Courage needed the additional degree of difficulty. Nothing the rest of the league could muster – or the best women’s teams in the world –has tested the Courage.

Even with the preseason acquisition of Crystal Dunn and the midseason addition of Heather O’Reilly and a bevy of up-and-coming national-team regulars, the Courage still doesn’t have the kind of Olympian starpower that the Thorns do with Tobin Heath and Lindsey Horan and Meghan Klingenberg, let alone Lyon’s international All-Star super squad. Both wilted before the Courage, the best team in the country by far, maybe the best in the whole wide world, and the Courage proved that again Saturday.

There’s nothing to do now except come back next year and try to do it allover again.

There is a finish line after all. The Courage reached it Saturday.

Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock
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