The North Carolina Courage opened their home campaign with a 1-0 win to the Portland Thorns. While the game ended 1-0, the scoreline doesn’t reflect how exciting the match was. The Courage could have had several goals in the match and outside of a few decent chances for the Thorns, was able to keep most of the possession, cause problems for Portland when they tried to build out of the back, and had the most dangerous scoring opportunities.
The game was highly anticipated with a rematch between the Thorns and NC Courage who beat them in the semi-finals of the NWSL playoffs when they were the Western New York Flash in one of the most exciting games of the year. While last week’s game saw a rematch of the final the Spirit have rebuilt their roster with the Thorns keeping their team mostly intact.
The first 25 minutes were evenly matched with both Portland and North Carolina getting chances on goal. North Carolina saw most of the ball though and had a chance when Jess McDonald nearly scored on a diving header in the 19th minute off of a Makenze Doniak cross.
If she didn’t do enough to make an impression last week, Debinha nearly pulled the Courage ahead in the 29th minute when she barely pushed a bicycle kick wide of goal.
30'- We could watch @Debinha7's bicycle kick all night! But we've got a game going on. #NCvPOR pic.twitter.com/tLS1lKLaHA— NWSL (@NWSL) April 23, 2017
A few minutes later, the Thorns’ Amandine Henry fired a shot from outside of the 18 yard box that Sabrina D’Angelo made a wonderful diving stop to keep the score even at nil-nil. In the 42nd minute, McCall Zerboni flicked a mis-cleared ball into the box and Lynn Williams fought off her defender to set up a shot that just went over the bar.
Overall the story of the first half was Portland doing an excellent job staying compact defensively and containing the Courage attack. The Thorns managed a few chances mostly on counter attacks and set-pieces while they were much less successful, and even gave up the ball in their own half several times, while trying to build out of the back.
It took nearly 10 minutes into the second half before a big chance came along when Sam Mewis fired a shot in that Thorns keeper Adrianna Franch saved by blocking the ball into the path Lynn Williams who was called offside. Then, just before the hour mark, Williams was 1v1 on the keeper and pushed a shot just wide of the far post.
In the 74th minute, Lynn Williams made a run in behind the Portland defense into the box for a ball that Emily Sonnet failed to clear. Williams then tried to cross the ball but Sonnet handled it leading to a penalty kick. The ensuing shot would end in sadness and disappointment for the Courage as Williams’ shot was saved by Franch. At this point it looked like even with all their chances, the ball would not go into the net for the Courage.
That is until the 81st minute when Jess McDonald gathered a ball in the box and chipped the defenders with the ball finding the forehead of Debinha who headed home a goal to take the lead 1-0.
81' @Debinha7 scores her first-ever #NWSL goal in @TheNCCourage's first-ever home game at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park. #NCvPOR pic.twitter.com/PT01NLN01p— NWSL (@NWSL) April 23, 2017
Portland fought valiantly to try for an equalizer but failed to find the goal in the closing minutes of the game. In the end, the result was deserved but perhaps didn’t reflect the quality of chances that both teams generated. North Carolina was dominant in the game and could have had several goals. For their part, Portland had a few good chances but their best opportunities were on shots from outside of the box.
Coach Paul Riley threw a wrench into the mix by lining up a 4-4-2 but pushed left back Jalene Hinkle into the midfield and ran with Abby Erceg, Abby Dahlkemper, and Yuri Kawamura at center back. The set up forced Portland into a more defensive shape, allowed the NC midfield to have an extra player to press, and kept the Thorns wingers to be more conservative.
On the other side, Thorns manager Mark Parsons continued to have his team try to play the ball out of the back despite the press from the Courage keeping the ball pinned back in the Portland defensive third.
Portland really missed Tobin Heath in this game. Much of the work to build the attack in the midfield fell on Allie Long who is a more than capable midfielder but could have used a creative outlet to play off of in order cause more chaos in the Courage defense.
The NC Courage backline is solid. The team allowed the third most goals in NWSL last season and held the mighty Portland Thorns to zero goals.
Go90 had some issues last week but the quality and production value was terrific at least on my internet connection. There might be a few more bugs to work out but it is a good platform for NWSL.