I went to the National Women’s Soccer League title game that had a record-breaking sellout crowd — here's what it was like

Erin DonneryThe North Carolina Courage celebrate winning the 2019 NWSL Championship.
  • The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) – the world’s premiere women’s soccer league – capped its seventh season with its most highly-anticipated championship match to date.
  • With a record crowd of 10,227 looking on, the reigning champion North Carolina Courage shut down league MVP and Golden Boot winner Sam Kerr and her Chicago Red Stars in a 4-0 rout at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina.
  • I went to Sahlen’s Stadium to experience the championship environment first hand, and it didn’t disappoint.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

This weekend, the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) – the world’s premiere women’s soccer league – capped its seventh season with its most highly-anticipated championship match to date.

With a record crowd of 10,227 looking on, the reigning champion North Carolina Courage shut down league MVP and Golden Boot winner Sam Kerr and her Chicago Red Stars in a 4-0 rout at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina.

But beyond the game itself, the environment inside Sahlen’s Stadium was absolutely electric. Of course, a huge number of Courage fans turned out for their hometown squad, but plenty of Chicago faithful – including the Red Stars’ officially supporters group Chicago Local 134 – travelled the some 640 miles from Chicago to Cary for the title game matchup.

Additionally, there were plenty of activities to do and things to see around the stadium for fans to engage with on the day of the game. Check out what the full NWSL Championship experience was like below:


Welcome to Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park, which played host to the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) Championship match on Sunday, October 27.

Erin DonnerySahlen’s Stadium.

The North Carolina Courage and the Chicago Red Stars — the two best teams in the world’s premier soccer league — faced off in a battle for the title trophy.

Erin DonneryThe NWSL Championship trophy.

The Courage, who won the shield each of the past three years by having the best regular-season record in the league, had the advantage of playing the big game on their home field in Cary.

Andy Mead/ISI Photos/Getty ImagesNC Courage.

But the Red Stars got the better of the reigning champions in two of their three previous meetings this season, with their first match resulting in a 1-1 draw.

Erin DonneryThe Chicago Red Stars’ starting lineup.

Sam Kerr, the prolific striker who famously celebrates her goals with backflips, was Chicago’s not-so-secret weapon heading into the match. The Australian was the 2019 NWSL MVP and Golden Boot winner.

AP Photo/Kamil KrzaczynskiSam Kerr.

Read more: International soccer star Sam Kerr didn’t know her league’s MVP award was being announced until minutes before she won it


That said, members of the media had peppered North Carolina head coach Paul Reilly with questions about the “dynasty” he’s built with the franchise before the match even kicked off.

Erin DonneryNC Courage head coach Paul Riley.

Although the final wouldn’t be the first NWSL game I had attended, I was excited to see the championship match — and all of the top-notch players who would be competing — live and in person.

Erin DonneryMeredith fuels up before the big game.

I got to the stadium well ahead of the start time and got my lay of the land — but plenty of fans had arrived ahead of me.

Erin DonneryThe entryway of Sahlen’s Stadium.

The front of the stands was surprisingly close to the field, which was sure to give fans a very immersive experience while watching the game.

Erin DonneryMeredith poses in front of the field at Sahlen’s Stadium.

According to the NC Courage’s website, Sahlen’s Stadium can seat up to 10,000 fans.

Erin DonnerySahlen’s Stadium.

Source: NC Courage


But when all was said and done on Sunday, 10,227 people packed the stands to cheer on some of the world’s best soccer players.

Meredith Cash/Business InsiderSahlen’s Stadium.

The Red Stars’ starting goalie, Alyssa Naeher, started in all seven of the US Women’s National Team’s (USWNT) 2019 World Cup matches and only allowed three goals through the entire tournament.

Erin DonneryAlyssa Naeher.

Her teammate on both teams, Morgan Brian, started in the midfield on Sunday.

Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty ImagesMorgan Brian.

Casey Short, a fellow member of the 2019 World Cup squad, started on defence for Chicago.

Howard Smith/ISI Photos/Getty ImagesCasey Short.

And Julie Ertz, who has twice won the World Cup with the USWNT, is the captain of the Red Stars.

Alex Menendez/Getty ImagesJulie Ertz.

On the other side of the pitch, Canadian women’s national team starting goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé handled the net.

Erin DonneryStephanie Labbé.

But the USWNT had representation as well, including striker Jess McDonald…

Erin DonneryJess McDonald.

… midfielder Crystal Dunn…

Erin DonneryCrystal Dunn.

… defender Abby Dahlkemper…

Andy Mead/ISI Photos/Getty ImagesAbby Dahlkemper.

… midfielder Sam Mewis…

Erin DonnerySam Mewis.

… and legendary midfielder Heather O’Reilly.

Erin DonneryHeather O’Reilly.

The Tar Heel state has been exceptionally kind to O’Reilly, as she played for the University of North Carolina before returning to finish her professional career with the Courage. It was only fitting, then, that the 34-year-old would play her final game where her career began and in front of an adoring home crowd.

Erin DonneryThe NC Courage fan section.

But the Red Stars fan section — dubbed “Chicago Local 134” — was a very significant presence at Sahlen’s Stadium.

Erin Donnery

A group of fans told Business Insider they drove nearly 13 hours to be there to support the Red Stars.

Erin DonneryChicago Red Stars fans.

Plenty of young fans from both sides packed the stands.

Erin DonneryYoung NC Courage fans.

But before the game kicked off, I decided to have a look around the stadium and partake in some of the activities.

Erin DonneryFans playing cornhole.

I took a photo with the USWNT’s four World Cup trophies.

Erin DonneryMeredith with the World Cup trophies.

And I got in some target practice, too.

Erin DonneryMeredith lines up for her shot.

I hit the target, but my shoe didn’t survive the contact.

Erin DonneryThere it goes.

Then, I grabbed a beer. Shortly after the World Cup, Budweiser became one of the NWSL’s most prominent sponsors, and the brand showed up in full force on Sunday.

Erin DonneryMeredith found the beer booth (and got a complimentary T-shirt).

And just like that, it was game time.

Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesAn aerial view of the field at Sahlen’s Stadium.

The Courage got out to a quick start, with Debinha sending one into the back of the net just four minutes into the game.

Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty ImagesDebinha celebrates her goal.

And North Carolina would not slow down from there. USWNT stars Jess McDonald, and Crystal Dunn both scored before both sides returned to the locker room for halftime.

Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty ImagesCrystal Dunn celebrates her goal during stoppage time of the first half.

Despite Chicago’s best efforts to climb back into the match, North Carolina expertly stifled Sam Kerr on the attack and held her to limited touches all afternoon.

Erin DonnerySam Kerr.

And Alyssa Naeher, considered by many to be the world’s best goalkeeper, struggled to keep the ball out of the net.

Erin DonneryAlyssa Naeher.

When all was said and done, the Courage had poured in four goals en route to their second consecutive championship victory.

Erin DonneryThe North Carolina Courage celebrate winning the 2019 NWSL Championship.

Debinha was voted MVP of the match.

Erin DonneryDebinha celebrates with her teammates.

The team made history, becoming the first in NWSL history to win both the championship and the shield in a single season.

Erin DonneryAbby Erceg, Kristen Hamilton, and Lynn Williams celebrate.

And they celebrated as such.

Erin DonneryMerritt Mathias, Abby Dahlkemper, and Crystal Dunn celebrate.

Then, once they got to the locker room, they celebrated some more.

Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty ImagesKristen Hamilton celebrates.

Head coach Paul Riley even joined in as the bottles started popping.

Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty ImagesPaul Riley celebrates with the team.

All in all, witnessing the Courage win a championship on their home turf was unlike anything I had experienced before.

Erin DonneryA shot of the scoreboard after the game.

Now check out the nominees for the Ballon d’Or, the top individual honour in soccer.

AP Photo/Francisco SecoMegan Rapinoe.

Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan headline a Ballon d’Or shortlist that features 4 US Women’s National Team stars

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