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NWSL semifinal between Chicago Red Stars, NC Courage ‘in doubt’ as Hurricane Florence looms

This NASA handout photo shows a view from the International Space Station of Hurricane Florence off the US east coast in the Atlantic Ocean on September 10, 2018. (Photo by Handout and Ricky ARNOLD / NASA / AFP)

A National Women’s Soccer League conference call Wednesday started with the name on the top of everyone’s mind heading into Sunday’s semifinal match between North Carolina Courage and Chicago Red Stars.

No, it was not NWSL Golden Boot winner and Australian international Sam Kerr.

It was Florence. Hurricane Florence, that is.

Minutes before coaches and players addressed reporters on the call, the NWSL released a statement in conjunction with both teams saying the match is “in doubt,” but still scheduled for 3 p.m. Sunday and the organizations “continue to monitor the changing forecast of Hurricane Florence as it relates to the potential of the NC Courage’s NWSL semifinal home playoff game.”

“The league and teams continue to explore all options and scenarios that would ultimately permit the match to be played in front of the NC Courage home fans,” the league statement said. “The safety of the fans, players and staff, as well as the ability for the Reds Stars to travel to North Carolina safely, remain the top priority for NWSL. An announcement as to the status of the match will be made as soon as reasonably possible.”

Red Stars coach Rory Dames said on the call that, to him, “as soon as reasonably possible” meant “two days ago.”

“The big thing for us is not just player safety, but the safety of our staff,” Dames said. “We still have no idea what we are doing. It leaves an anxious feeling.”

Several other sporting events scheduled in the area have been canceled or postponed, including multiple college football, volleyball and soccer games. So continuing to wait to make a decision puzzled the Red Stars’ coach. 

“There are a lot of people with a lot of opinions of what is going to happen,” Dames said. “If we are told the game is in North Carolina … the league has the authority to do that, but it will be up to each individual player and staff member if they go or not. I am not going to mandate this.”

Another option for Saturday’s game is to change locations. Playing in Chicago as well as Portland were reportedly backup options to North Carolina — a location the NC Courage earned by being the top team in NWSL.

“If it was up to me, I’d play the game in Portland,” Dames said. “But I am not North Carolina. I didn’t have the season they had. I didn’t earn the right.”

Meanwhile, NC Courage worries seem focused on the pitch.

“It doesn’t matter to our lot,” NC Courage coach Paul Riley said. “We have spoken about it very little. We would play in a supermarket parking lot if we had to.”

If the game is played as currently scheduled, the NC Courage host the Red Stars in a rematch of a 2017 semifinal. The NC Courage advanced last time and then fell to the Portland Thorns in the championship.

This is the Red Stars’ fourth consecutive semifinal appearance. They failed to advance in their last three appearances. 

Red Stars forward Kerr echoed that the player’s focus is on the field. 

“Everyone is interested in what is going to play out,” Kerr said. “We have a semifinal to prepare for and [the impending weather] doesn’t change how we prepare.”

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