Let’s play which team is the underdog in the NWSL championship match.
Team A won the NWSL Shield for the third year in a row, is making a fourth straight final appearance, has won two of the last three finals and is hosting this final.
Team B is making its first appearance in a final, has won six straight matches and went 2-0-1 against Team A during the regular season, but both wins were at home while this match is on the road.
The North Carolina Courage are Team A. Team B is the Chicago Red Stars.
During a conference call Tuesday, both coaches made the case that their team is the underdog.
Courage coach Paul Riley stepped up first and said the Red Stars are the favorites because of the head-to-head meetings this season. Red Stars coach Rory Dames wasn’t having any of it.
“Anybody who knows Paul, whatever narrative he needs to spin, he spins,” Dames said. “If you’ve won three shields in a row, two of the last three championships and you’re at home, you’re probably not the underdog.
“Anyone who thinks North Carolina is the underdog probably needs to take a step back and get to know Paul as well as I have the last 20 years.”
Riley’s point about the head-to-head meetings carries some weight though. The Red Stars are the only team the Courage didn’t beat this season.
The teams played a 1-1 draw in Cary to open the season. Just under a month later, Chicago picked up a 3-1 win in Bridgeview. The Red Stars finished off the season series with a 2-1 win in a packed house, the first game back for the Red Stars’ World Cup winners.
Sam Kerr scored in all three games and will of course play a major role in the match. Still, by Riley’s own admission, his team was shorthanded in the previous meetings.
“It’s nice to have the two best teams playing against each other in the final,” Riley said. “We’re at full strength against them for the first time this season.”
Although that’s not entirely true as the Courage will be without starting fullback Merritt Mathias, who tore her ACL last month. Filling in for her is no slouch though, as Riley has inserted former USWNT star Heather O’Reilly into the lineup.
Dames said both teams have “evolved” since the regular season meetings. The Courage have won 10 of 12 since the last time they faced the Red Stars. That’s why Dames says there’s no pressure on his squad. The Red Stars also enter with plenty of confidence on a six-game winning streak.
“I’d say anybody going to play North Carolina in North Carolina is the underdog,” Dames said. “But I don’t believe we’ll go in there as the little engine that could.”