- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
According to the NC Courage’s website, Sahlen’s Stadium can seat up to 10,000 fans.
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.
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.
Her teammate on both teams, Morgan Brian, started in the midfield on Sunday.
Casey Short, a fellow member of the 2019 World Cup squad, started on defence for Chicago.
And Julie Ertz, who has twice won the World Cup with the USWNT, is the captain of the Red Stars.
On the other side of the pitch, Canadian women’s national team starting goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé handled the net.
But the USWNT had representation as well, including striker Jess McDonald…
… midfielder Crystal Dunn…
… defender Abby Dahlkemper…
… midfielder Sam Mewis…
… and legendary midfielder Heather 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.
But the Red Stars fan section — dubbed “Chicago Local 134” — was a very significant presence at Sahlen’s Stadium.
A group of fans told Business Insider they drove nearly 13 hours to be there to support the Red Stars.
Plenty of young fans from both sides packed the stands.
But before the game kicked off, I decided to have a look around the stadium and partake in some of the activities.
I took a photo with the USWNT’s four World Cup trophies.
And I got in some target practice, too.
I hit the target, but my shoe didn’t survive the contact.
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.
And just like that, it was game time.
The Courage got out to a quick start, with Debinha sending one into the back of the net just four minutes into the game.
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.
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.
And Alyssa Naeher, considered by many to be the world’s best goalkeeper, struggled to keep the ball out of the net.
When all was said and done, the Courage had poured in four goals en route to their second consecutive championship victory.
Debinha was voted MVP of the match.
The team made history, becoming the first in NWSL history to win both the championship and the shield in a single season.
And they celebrated as such.
Then, once they got to the locker room, they celebrated some more.
Head coach Paul Riley even joined in as the bottles started popping.
All in all, witnessing the Courage win a championship on their home turf was unlike anything I had experienced before.
Now check out the nominees for the Ballon d’Or, the top individual honour in soccer.
Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan headline a Ballon d’Or shortlist that features 4 US Women’s National Team stars
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.