Bethany Balcer (credit John Rothwell)
METUCHEN, NJ - The National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) season will come to an exciting conclusion this Sunday, October 27 as the reigning champion North Carolina Courage will take on the Chicago Red Stars for the 2019 Championship. The final will take place at Sahlen's Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, NC (3:30 PM EDT) and will be broadcast live on ESPN. On Sunday in the semifinals, the Courage defeated the Seattle Reign FC and the Red Stars were victorious over the Portland Thorns. Four alumnae from current and former United Women's Soccer (UWS) member teams will take part in the NWSL Championship match.
Three of them suit up for North Carolina as Crystal Dunn (Long Island Rough Riders), Stephanie Labbé (Calgary Foothills Women's FC) and Lauren Milliet (Colorado Pride) will look to help Head Coach Paul Riley lift his third NWSL championship trophy. Labbé was a 2018 All-UWS Second Team and All-West First Team selection for Head Coach Troye Flannery's conference champion side. Milliet was the sixth Pride alum ever to be selected in the NWSL College Draft. Lauren starred for Colorado during the 2016 UWS season, appearing in seven of the team's eight games. Pride alumnae Mallory Weber (13 starts for Utah Royals FC) and Britt Eckerstrom (10 starts, three shutouts for Portland Thorns) also suited up for NWSL teams this past season.
Michele Vasconcelos (credit RSLW)
2016 All-UWS and All-West First Team selection Michele Vasconcelos (Real Salt Lake Women) was ruled out for the remainder of Chicago's NWSL season after she ruptured her anterior cruciate ligament in July. The former BYU star had played in all 11 games (30 career appearances) up to that point of the campaign. Seattle's season came to an end at the hands of the Courage but the team still has some potentially good news to look forward to as former Grand Rapids FC star Bethany Balcer has been nominated for the NWSL Rookie of the Year award. Balcer leads all rookies in scoring (six goals, two assists) and is the only Reign FC player to appear in all 24 matches.
The NWSL Players Association announced its own set of year-end awards this past week and the 2017 UWS Midwest Player of the Year was given top rookie status. Australian international Sam Kerr of the Red Stars was named the league's Player of the Year. Balcer had recently joined fellow UWS champion and former GRFC teammate Madison Pogarch (Portland Thorns FC) at U.S. Under-23 Women's National Team camp. Other alumnae from UWS member teams who took part in the 2019 NWSL season include three members of the Washington Spirit: Megan Crosson (LA Galaxy OC), Chloe Logarzo (Colorado Pride) and Tiffany McCarty (LA Galaxy OC). Balcer had Darian Jenkins (Real Salt Lake Women) and New England Mutiny alum Morgan Andrews on her side as well.
Stephanie Labbe (courtesy S. Labbe)