NC Courage returns to NWSL title game, looking for repeat

The North Carolina Courage will have a chance to defend its NWSL title, and it took extra time and a little bit of Brazilian magic to get back to a third consecutive championship game.

Debinha curled in a perfect free kick in extra time to propel the Courage to a 4-1 win over Seattle Reign FC, and it will host the Chicago Red Stars in next Sunday’s championship game.

The Courage, regular-season champions for the third season in a row after setting an NWSL record for goals scored, beat the Portland Thorns in last year’s title game in Portland. The Courage has yet to lose an NWSL game in Cary this season (9-0-4) and had a 14-4 edge in shots on target Sunday.

Heather O’Reilly, in her final pro season before retiring, gave the Courage the lead late in regulation by converting a penalty in the 88th minute, but Reign FC’s Ifeoma Onumonu answered late in injury time to force extra time.

“When you give up a late goal like that, it can affect the psyche of a team,” NC Courage head coach Paul Riley said. “I told them at the end of the game, it’s a mighty challenge. It was kind of a hole we put ourselves in, but you only get better by being in those types of holes. They showed a lot of character in overtime.”

Debinha was taken down outside the box in the 99th minute, and she swerved the resulting free kick into the top left corner of the net, out of the reach of Reign goalie Casey Murphy. A Kristen Hamilton cross was knocked in by a Reign defender in the 104th minute for an own goal and 3-1 Courage lead. Crystal Dunn tacked on a fourth in the 107th minute.