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PREVIEW: Must-know facts heading into the NWSL semifinals

From left to right: North Carolina forward Lynn Williams, Chicago Red Stars forward Sam Kerr, Portland Thorns FC forward Christine Sinclair and Reign FC midfielder Megan Rapinoe. (Photo courtesy of NWSL.)

The NWSL’s regular season ended on Oct. 12 and now soccer fans are buckling up for playoffs. The final four compete in the semifinals this weekend to see who will travel to Cary, N.C. for the league championship on Oct. 27.

MATCHES

Game One

Reign FC (No. 4) vs. North Carolina Courage (No. 1)

Sunday, Oct. 20 @ 1:30 p.m. ET

TSN3 (Canada), ESPN2 (USA)

Game Two

Portland Thorns FC (No. 3) vs Chicago Red Stars (No. 2)

Sunday, Oct. 20 @ 3:30 p.m. ET

TSN3 (Canada), ESPN2 (USA)

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

North Carolina Courage

  • The defending NWSL champions are going for their third appearance in a row at the NWSL championship.
  • They have won three NWSL Shields.
  • Head Coach Paul Riley was named coach of the year the last two years in a row and is nominated for the award again this season.
  • With 12 goals, Lynn Williams is the second-leading scorer in the league.
  • Strength: Defence. The Courage boast a strong back line that includes Abby Dahlkemper and Abby Erceg. The team has the least amount of goals against in the league (23).

Chicago Red Stars

  • This will be the Stars’ fifth consecutive postseason appearance.
  • Forward Sam Kerr is this season’s leading scorer with 18 goals and is the Golden Boot recipient for the third year in a row.
  • Yuki Nagasato is first in the league for assists with eight.
  • Strength: Offence. The Red Stars finished their regular season with five wins in a row, outscoring their opponents 12-2, thanks to the dynamic duo of Nagasato and Kerr.

Portland Thorns FC

  • The Thorns are aiming to appear in their third consecutive final.
  • They won the championship in 2017 against the North Carolina Courage.
  • Portland is coming into the semifinals on a low: The record for their last five games is 1-3-1, and they were outscored 9-1 over that timespan.  
  • Strength: A stacked roster. The Thorns carry a number of well-known stars including Tobin Heath, Lindsey Horan, Christine Sinclair, Adrianna Franch, Meghan Klingenberg and Emily Sonnet.

Reign FC

  • The Reign were the league runners up in 2014 and 2015.
  • Last season they were in the semifinals but lost to the Thorns 2-1.
  • The Reign boast Megan Rapinoe, a 2019 World Cup champion who won the tournament’s Golden Boot, and was named this year’s best FIFA women’s player and Women’s Sports Foundation’s Sportswoman of the Year.
  • Strength: Depth. The Reign suffered numerous injuries for extended amounts of time this season, including Rapinoe, Jess Fishlock, Kristen McNabb, Jasmyne Spencer and starting goalkeeper Michelle Betos. Despite the absences from the pitch, the Reign were able to finish in the top four. Rookie Casey Murphy stepped into the starting keeper position and is now nominated for goalkeeper of the year.

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