The North Carolina Courage looked to continue their perfect start to the 2018 season as they welcomed the Seattle Reign to Cary. With two games this week and his penchant to spread around the starts and minutes, Paul Riley put out a surprising lineup only making one change with Abby Dahlkember out of the lineup and rookie Kaleigh Kurtz stepping next to Abby Erceg at center back. The lineup also saw Sam Mewis beginning the game on the bench after making her first appearance of the year last weekend, she would come on as a substitute in the 73rd minute for Kristen Hamilton. In the end, the tough North Carolina defense and a goal in the 70th from Jess McDonald would see the Courage prevail on Wednesday night.
Courage remain perfect in 2018
For the second year in a row, North Carolina has won their first four matches of the year, winning last night in dominant fashion. The Courage managed 22 shots with five on target and attempted 25 crosses. Compare that to the five shots with just one on target for the Reign and it is clear that without Megan Rapinoe, the Reign really struggled to create chances.
The game took some time for both teams to settle in with each team pushing forward but not finding chances. In the 14th minute, a yellow card was shown to Kristen Hamilton who went in with a clumsy challenge on Allie Long trying to force a turn over in the Reign half. Minutes later, Vlatko Andonovski was forced to his bench early when Christen Westphal came off in the 18th minute for Lauren Barnes at left back.
The game would get more interesting as the half progressed, however. Two big chances would come to the Courage in the first half in the last 15 minutes of the first 45. First in the 30th minute Merritt Mathias almost got an assist against her former team as she sent in a cross on a break away to Jess McDonald in the 18 yard box, unfortunately the forward’s header went over the bar. In the 40th minute, the Courage broke in transition and after seemingly missing their chance to create an opportunity, the ball was played back to Denise O’Sullivan who sent a curling shot just wide of the Reign upper 90.
As the half ended, the Courage managed to be the better side in pushing forward, but the Reign had weathered their attacks well. While North Carolina managed seven shots in the first half, none went on target. The Reign, meanwhile, managed to hold 57% of the possession but managed just three shots themselves. The first half began brightly for the Courage as the team was working the ball around the Reign box in the 48th minute. McDonald took a ever so light touch to try and send Lynn Williams through on goal, to her credit Betos came off her line and cut Williams’ angle forcing her shot wide.
As the second 45 wore on it was clear that Paul Riley seemed to want his team to press more. The result was more possession and fewer opportunities for the Reign going forward. This was really where it looked like the Reign missed Rapinoe, without their playmaker the team had difficulty building possession in the face of the Courage press and largely failed to threaten in the second half. On the other side of the field, Seattle’s defense was tested with crosses and a barrage of shots but the Courage failed to find the net as the clock continued ticking away.
North Carolina’s persistence in going forward was finally rewarded in the 70th minute. A Seattle turnover in the Courage final third was played quickly to Kristen Hamilton who played a long ball to McDonald. The Courage striker gathered the pass behind the Reign defenders and was one on one with Michelle Betos who McDonald calmly slotted the ball past to put the team ahead 1-0.
The lone goal would be enough as the Courage would see the game out to earn their 3rd cleansheet and 3rd 1-0 victory of 2018.
- Sabrina D’Angelo had a solid game in goal. She seemed confident in defending her area and showed good judgement when it came time to decide if she should stay home or charge out of the box.
- After her player of the week performance McCall Zerboni had another standout performance in central midfield. In the absence of Mewis, the midfielder has taken a big step forward playing as the lone defensive midfielder for the team.
- Crystal Dunn is really settling in for the Courage as a wide player starting last night on the right. With her technical play, crossing, and vision, she should continue to cause problems for opposing defenses all year.
- The Courage defense was cohesive and well organized, forcing Seattle into five offsides calls throughout the match.