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NWSL final: Courage run rampant on Red Stars, claim second title

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The North Carolina Courage put four unanswered goals past the Chicago Red Stars on Sunday, winning the National Women’s Soccer League championship for a second consecutive year by a scoreline of 4-0.

It is the second title in the club’s history, tying a record held by the Portland Thorns and the defunct FC Kansas City.

Like the dominant team they are (and have been), the Courage – fresh off of winning their third straight NWSL Shield – wasted no time in imposing themselves on Chicago.

Just four minutes in, Debinha’s close-range finish – the fastest-ever goal in a NWSL championship game – foreshadowed what was to come at a sold-out Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park.

What exactly was it that came in the 86 minutes that followed?

A tormenting, fluid Courage attack that overpowered a feeble Red Stars, who were missing injured Tierna Davidson and failed to plug-in league MVP Sam Kerr into the game.

Before the first half came to an end, forward Jessica McDonald double the lead for the hosts’, heading the ball with into the back of net. In stoppage time, Crystal Dunn’s goal put the game out of the Red Stars’ reach.

“It was a hotter today than we expected and we needed to share the load and, you know, [we] had four different goal scorers,” Dunn said. “I always said this team is so hard to beat because who are you going to stop on our team?”

“We got up on them early and I think that really helped us in the end,” she added. “It is a final and we are playing against a top team this year and we obviously did not think the score would be four-zero,” Dunn added. “So we are really proud of our effort.”

Debinha, the game’s first goalscorer, was named the final MVP, which was U.S. national team legend’s Heather O’Reilly last professional game.

With Sunday’s title in the books, the Courage became the first NWSL team to win the NWSL Shield and the NWSL Championship in back-to-back seasons.

In other words, Paul Riley and Co. have put together a dynasty. It was only fitting that they also became the first team in NWSL history to hoist the cup in front of the home fans in Cary.

Three things we learned from USWNT’s win over France

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The United States women’s national team knew the storylines ahead of this Women’s World Cup quarterfinal match against hosts France in Paris.

Would Jill Ellis react to an uninspiring performance from her Starting XI against Spain?

[ MORE: Match recap | Player ratings ]

How would Megan Rapinoe react after making national headlines regarding a potential post-championship White House boycott?

And could Crystal Dunn cope with the threats presented by the French attack?

It’s no surprise that all three things are our three things following a 2-1 defeat of France.

Bring on England.

Headline-drawing iconoclast Rapinoe delivers above the fold performance

Whether she’s just a genius at compartmentalization or she thrives off drama, Megan Rapinoe appreciates Friday’s stage like few others.

The winger who infamously said she wouldn’t be going to the White House if the Yanks won the tournament scored twice for the second-straight match, and remarkably has four goals in two matches despite (arguably) not being near her best.

Jill Ellis said this team breathes easy under duress because they are always under pressure, and Rapinoe got the job done faster than Twitter fingers could tatter out a, “Guess you won’t be invited to the White House,” she had the U.S. on the board with a spinning free kick through traffic.

But Rapinoe’s second goal of the day was the one to note, as she zipped onto Tobin Heath’s cross to the center of the box and clinically banged home a second goal.

You don’t have to love Rapinoe’s politics, but the USWNT’s iconoclast just keeps delivering despite being on the verge of her 34th birthday. That’ll come two days before the final.

Dunn doesn’t blink, just keeps working

There’s a challenge in describing the performance of USWNT left back Crystal Dunn, who was far from perfect on the day.

That’s because she was tactically targeted by France. Everyone knew it was coming, with French star Kadidiatou Diani giving her the proverbial business all match long.

“We knew the host country has so much to play for and they’re a top world class team,” Dunn said on Fox after the game. “It wasn’t pretty a lot of the time, but we just had to get the job done. If we are to hoist the trophy, no one’s gonna remember how we played, we’re just going to remember that we fought it out and we won.”

The fact that the perceived weak link rose up and put in a high quality shift will not be forgotten by her teammates or future opponents. Dunn was beaten several times, but recovered nearly every time and didn’t show any signs of fatigue.

That’s good, because England is going to come at her with a different kind of challenge. After Friday, it’s difficult to doubt Dunn.

Ellis’ mad scientist stuff proves successful

Ellis made two moves that really raised eyebrows, leaving Lindsey Horan out of the lineup at center midfield and keeping a scoring-but-underwhelming Megan Rapinoe at left wing when many expected the fresh legs of Christen Press to make an appearance.

The result is a win, so yeah it’s a success, but there’s a question of whether that was despite the plan.

Ellis made a decision to cede possession in the midfield and France couldn’t make much happen until the final half hour. Horan is an absolute machine in the center of the park, but Ellis opted for Lavelle’s lighter touch and counted on Ertz and Mewis to do a bit moreover the dirty work (which most teams can’t do because, well, they don’t have Julie Ertz).

“This team just showed so much grit and so much heart,” remarked Alex Morgan, another player to fight form the past few matches. “We weathered a couple storms during the match. We wound down the clock really well at the end.”

We mentioned Rapinoe delivering her two goals above, and she was very good early. That button was the right one to push for sure, though Ellis waited a bit too long in pulling the California native from the match.

Will we see the same 11 against Nikita Parris, Lucy Bronze, Ellen White, and England? That would be a risk, and it would take brass-coated guts for Ellis to keep Horan out of the lineup again.

USWNT’s Dunn, Chelsea Ladies win Spring title

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USWNT star Crystal Dunn went 90 minutes as the Chelsea Ladies claimed the Spring Series title with a 2-0 win at Birmingham City on Saturday.

Dunn, 24, joined Chelsea from the Washington Spirit this offseason and played right wing back for the Blues.

Chelsea won the Spring Series by goal differential tiebreaker, besting Carli Lloyd’s Man City by 18 goals.

[ MLS: NYCFC 2-1 Philadelphia ]

The title comes two days after USWNT teammate Alex Morgan and Lyon claimed the UEFA Women’s Champions League crown.

Crystal Dunn scores twice to lead USWNT to 5-1 win over Russia

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HOUSTON (AP) After dropping two straight at the SheBelieves tournament, the U.S. women’s national team rebounded with two dominant performances.

Crystal Dunn had two goals for the second straight game, helping the U.S. cruise to a 5-1 win over Russia in an international friendly Sunday.

“It’s important for us to regroup,” Dunn said. “We were all disappointed with SheBelieves results, but it’s all about the journey into World Cup, so 2018 is what we are setting out for.”

Dunn scored in the 38th minute off a pass from Meghan Klingenberg before opening the second half with her fourth goal in the two Russian friendlies off a pass from Mallory Pugh.

“She’s been fantastic,” U.S. coach Jill Ellis said of Dunn. “I committed to going into these games playing her central and high. … We can play into her feet, we can play her into space. She’s scoring goals, so I think she’s in a really good spot leaving here.”

Carli Lloyd and Rose Lavelle also scored in the United States’ dominant performance. The Americans had a 21-2 advantage in shots and attempted 15 corner kicks to one by Russia.

“Things I liked, I thought the mobility of our front group and interplay was good,” Ellis said. “I think today it took a while to get going, but once it did, I was pleased with that.”

Lloyd, who plays in Houston for the NWSL’s Dash, opened the scoring in the 20th minute with her 97th career national team goal, converting a penalty kick inside the near post. Dunn set up the PK after being taken down in the box going for a loose ball.

Lavelle followed with her first career national team goal in fourth cap in the 37th minute, taking a cross-field forward pass from Pugh on the far side for a short breakaway and scoring inside the near post. Pugh’s two assists were her first multi-assist game as a member of the women’s national team.

“We wanted to redeem ourselves,” Lavelle said. “SheBelieves didn’t go the way we would have liked to. We were hungry to get back on the field and prove ourselves and get some in the back of the net.”

The U.S., ranked second in the world behind Germany and playing its last friendly until traveling to Sweden on June 8, also beat Russia 4-0 on Thursday at the home of MLS’ FC Dallas in suburban Dallas.

Overall, Ellis said she was pleased with the camp and the response from the team following the two straight losses.

“Anytime you lose, the next game you’re looking for a response and to see where people are at,” Ellis said. “This team doesn’t lose very much so people are like `Oh.’ Yes, the results are there and they make you feel good, but what answers do you get and how do you get tested? Those are important pieces for me.”

Russia cut the lead to 3-1 with a Nadesha Karpova penalty kick in the 42nd minute, but the Americans regained the three-goal advantage when Lloyd’s header off Lavelle’s corner kick went off Ksenia Kovalenko’s leg for an own goal.

USWNT carves up Russia in 4-0 bounce-back win

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The United States women bounced back from the disappointing SheBelieves Cup by obliterating 25th-ranked Russia 4-0 in Frisco, TX on Thursday.

Jill Ellis deployed a striker-less lineup, and it worked to perfection as the USWNT launched devastating attack after devastating attack that proved far too much for Russia to handle. Allie Long and Crystal Dunn both picked up a brace in the win.

It took just 10 minutes for the United States to open the scoring, with Dunn striking one from a tight angle that went off Russian goalkeeper Alena Beliaeva’s hand and into the back of the net. Long doubled the lead 18 minutes later with a glancing header from point-blank range that left Beliaeva with no chance.

21-year-old Rose Lavelle was a force to be reckoned with on the right wing, leaving flummoxed defenders in her wake and firing pinpoint crosses into the six-yard box. She nutmegged defenders twice, once on the end-line and once with a ridiculous back-heel pass on Long’s first-half miss. Lavelle did get her first career international assist, feeding Long on her first goal.

The first-half scoreline was not indicative of how dominant the US was through the first 45 minutes, with Long and Mallory Pugh both missing easy chances that would have increased the lead further. They finally tacked on a third before halftime Dunn picked the pocket of Russian defender Daria Makarenko and poked home in the 42nd minute. Carli Lloyd also hit the post seconds before the break.

Through the opening half, the US ripped off 14 shots and held 70% possession, and it felt like far more than that. After halftime, the US continued to pummel Russia with Alex Morgan on for Carli Lloyd, but the finishing disappeared. Long had another glaring miss in the opening minutes of the second half, and then she missed a chance from the penalty spot. Morgan and Pugh combined to earn the spot-kick, but Long blasted it well over the bar. Becky Sauerbrunn also narrowly missed a stunner from acres outside the box, with her low drive missing agonizingly left of the net.

The US finally converted after the break as Long did what she does best, finding herself unmarked in the area and heading home powerfully off a brilliant deep cross from Pugh. Christen Press missed a chance for a fifth moments later, poking wide right on a breakaway.

All told, the US peppered the Russian net with 33 shots, but only got seven on target in what seemed to be an off-night in front of goal even with the lop-sided scoreline. They also earned a massive 16 corners, a huge total compared to Russia’s two. The win sees the USWNT bounce back from the SheBelieves Cup where they lost a pair of games and saw their #1 World FIFA ranking slip away.