For all of the attention the United States’ World Cup win brought the NWSL this year, the league’s best goal scorer, and maybe best player, is not an American.
Sam Kerr set the league’s single-season goal record this season with 18. She broke her own record and did so while missing three games playing for Australia in the World Cup.
Kerr’s goal against the Portland Thorns in the semifinal helped the Chicago Red Stars reach an NWSL final for the first time. As she leads the team into the game at the North Carolina Courage, she will be among the biggest storylines for multiple reasons.
Obviously, the Best XI forward (named along with Red Stars teammates Julie Ertz and Casey Short) will be the Courage’s top defensive priority. Kerr scored in all three games against North Carolina this year.
“If we don’t keep her in front of us, we’re going to be in serious trouble this weekend,” North Carolina coach Paul Riley said.
There’s also the looming question of Kerr’s future. Could this be her last game with the Red Stars?
Reports of lucrative offers from Europe are testing Kerr’s desire to stay in Chicago and the league’s mechanisms and ability to keep her. She won’t say anything on the topic yet, but her coach wasn’t shy to crack a joke about it after the semifinal win.
Kerr interrupted Rory Dames’ postgame interview with reporters to give him a hug.
“They’re going to think it’s a goodbye hug,” Dames said.
Dames alluded to the fact that reporters are looking for any clues as to her future. Perhaps once the game ends on Sunday, there might be one or two on display.
Kerr played in, but didn’t win, the 2013 NWSL final with Western New York, the team that was relocated to North Carolina. She has led the league in goals each of the past three years, but hasn’t won the title yet.
The Red Stars have won six games in a row, and Kerr is confident despite the juggernaut facing them. The Courage have won three straight NWSL Shields and two of the past three finals.
“Just one more game,” Kerr said. “There’s no point taking the foot off the gas right now. We’ll stick together and do what we do every week and that’s believe in each other. They’re a great team. They’ve been the best team for the last three or four years. They’re not a team that we take lightly and, to be fair, I think it’s probably the best game of the season. We’re both flying at the moment. It’s going to be a great match.”
After the semifinal win, Kerr was asked if she had a message for Chicago fans. Her answer didn’t necessarily sound like a goodbye, and it ended with Kerr’s fun-loving personality showing through.
“The fans have grown and grown every game, and I love Chicago,” Kerr said. “I love my teammates. To have that amount of support [in the semifinal], all season, it’s been unbelievable, but there’s one more game left, so let’s do it. Let’s bring the trophy back and then close down the city and have a damn party.”