Sam Mewis

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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.

What’s the USWNT’s best XI for the World Cup?

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Jill Ellis still has some time to tinker with her World Cup starting lineup, though she’s long had the luxury to plan for this summer.

When you’re the United States women’s national team manager, it’s all about the Olympics and the World Cup. Most friendlies can be won while experimenting, CONCACAF matches are straight-forward unless the opponent is Mexico, and the SheBelieves Cup is still growing in renown.

[ MORE: Suarez to MLS? ]

So, yes, any uncertainty about the Yanks’ Best XI for a World Cup knockout round game is a head-scratcher, even with the wealth of talent at Ellis’ disposal as she attempts to make it back-to-back World Cup titles.

Seemingly the biggest questions are in the midfield, beginning with how often to deploy Carli Lloyd, and whether she’s a super sub or still an absolute force from the opening kickoff. Lloyd, 36, is a World Cup cycle removed from being crowned the best player in the world, but Rose Lavelle has been terrific when healthy.

The other questions is who to include in the other midfield spot near Julie Ertz, and both Lindsay Horan and Sam Mewis can lay righteous claims to starting bids. Still, Horan will get the chance to drive the bus more often than not in a roaming role.

With Thailand and Chile before Sweden, though, don’t be surprised if we get one last audition for Mewis or even Lloyd. Either way, opportunities abound against a Thailand team which regularly gives up multiple goals to top teams.

Here’s our bet:

Naeher

O’Hara — Sauerbrunn — Dahlkemper — Dunn

Horan — Ertz

Lavelle

Heath — Morgan — Rapinoe

Carli Lloyd hat-trick leads USWNT over Panama

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The U.S. women’s national team obliterated Panama 5-0 thanks to a hat-trick from Carli Lloyd.

Lloyd scored early and often, but it was Sam Mewis who got things started just five minutes in as she headed in a corner from Christen Press. Mewis snuck between three defenders and found space directly in the center of the net.

In the 23rd minute, a set-piece again added to the USWNT’s total. From the same corner, Press sent in a more high, looping delivery and found Lloyd at the far post and rose high above Maria Murillo to get her head to the ball.

Her second and the U.S. third came just six minutes later as Lloyd received a feed with her back to goal at the top-left corner of the box. She deked Hilary Jaen with a stepover and turned to face the goal, sped past Aldrith Quintero, and touched right to wrong-foot Yomira Pinzon before curling an effort into the top-right corner. Lloyd was so free that Panama goalkeeper Yenith Bailey gave up immediately as Lloyd shot the ball.

Christen Press bagged the third for the U.S. three minutes later just past the half-hour mark on a breakaway as the U.S. midfield picks the pocket of Quintero, and Julie Ertz immediately sends Press through. With both central defenders trailing in her wake, Press touched right enough to send Bailey to her belly and finished into the roof from a tight angle.

Finally, just after halftime, the U.S. picked up its fifth and final goal in the 48th minute on yet another set-piece as second-half substitute Rose Lavelle delivered a free-kick and found Lloyd at the far post for another close-range header, the easiest one she’ll ever have. Lloyd easily snuck behind her defender and was completely free at the far post, heading into the ground and in the net.

The win gives the U.S. two wins in two in the final group stage, with a match against Trinidad & Tobago still to come.

Lynn Williams scores 49 seconds into debut; USWNT tops Swiss 4-0

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SANDY, Utah (AP) Lynn Williams scored 49 seconds into her national team debut, and Tobin Heath, Christen Press and Samantha Mewis added goals to lead the U.S. over Switzerland 4-0 in an exhibition game Wednesday night.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USWNT coverage ]

U.S. coach Jill Ellis gave five players debuts as the Americans retool ahead of the 2019 World Cup.

Stanford junior midfielder Andi Sullivan and Chicago Red Stars defender Casey Short started, and Williams, a Western NY forward, entered at the start of the second half. Western NY defender Abby Dahlkemper followed in the 72nd minute and Legends FC forward Ashley Hatch in the 76th.

“They deserved some playing time based on how they trained,” Ellis said. “That’s the messaging – how well you do in training gets you playing time. Switzerland is a good team. To come in and be as impactful as they were is a real testament to our potential future with this group.”

[ MORE: Jermaine Jones ready to return after gruesome knee injury ]

The 23-year-old Williams, this year’s National Women’s Soccer League MVP and leading scorer, dashed past a defender, then drew out goalkeeper Gaelle Thalmann and threaded the ball inside a post in the 46th to put the Americans ahead. Williams became the 20th American woman to score in her international debut.

“At the end of the day, it’s soccer and it’s supposed to be fun, so I just tried to make it fun,” Williams said. “In that moment, I was thinking `Get a goal.'”

Heath doubled the lead in the 61st off Crystal Dunn’s cross, her 17th international goal and fifth this year. Press tapped in Kelley O’ Hara’s pass in the 69th for her 36th international goal, and Mewis scored with a header in the 76th.

The U.S. and Switzerland play another exhibition Sunday at Minneapolis.

USWNT topples Germany 2-1 to win SheBelieves Cup

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Alex Morgan and Sam Mewis scored first-half goals to lead the USWNT to a 2-1 win over Germany on Wednesday in Florida, clinching the inaugural SheBelieves Cup for the hosts.

Anja Mittag scored her 40th international goal for Germany, who entered the match with a 2-0 record in the tournament.

[ WATCH: Morgan’s scintillating goal ]

The USWNT opened play with a 751-minute shutout streak and a 8-0 record in 2016. The Yanks had won the first two games of the tournament, both 1-0 wins over England and France.

(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

The streak of zeroes ended at 781 minutes with Mittag’s goal.

Morgan equalized for the States with a gorgeous goal, popping a long diagonal ball from Meghan Klingenberg around defender Saskia Bartusiak and blasting the falling juggle past Almuth Schult.

Early on, it was all USWNT. Carli Lloyd dribbled for more than 50 yards for the first chance of the game, hitting a low shot wide in the second minute.

Christen Press had a good chance on a long ball over the top from Whitney Engen, as the U.S. clearly felt it could exploit Germany’s back line with its speed.

But Germany struck first.

Morgan then equalized with a wonderful goal, and Mewis made it 2-1 with a, well, goal that counts. Her shot from distance deflected and Schult failed to catch the orb on its way into the goal. Whoops.

The U.S. next plays a pair of friendlies April 6 and 10, both against Colombia on U.S. soil.