The NC Courage looked to win their fifth game of the season to being 2018 but surprisingly earned just a draw against the Utah Royals FC. While the Courage played well and had several good chances, a stand out performance by Utah Royals keeper Abby Smith helped the visitors come away with a point.
Yet again, coach Paul Riley started the team in a 4-4-2 formation, Abby Dahlkemper returned to the lineup at her normal center back position. The other change was Katelyn Rowland getting the start in goal after Sabrina D’Angelo had a standout performance in her clean sheet midweek.
The Courage clearly were looking to get a fast start against Utah to begin the game. Only six minutes into the match, a cleared ball fell to the feet of Merritt Mathais several yards outside of the 18 yard box. The right back squared the ball up and absolutely buried it into the upper 90 of the visitors’ goal.
The half would continue to be all North Carolina as the Courage dominated Utah. The team played their press to perfection and allowed only one shot by their opponents for the half. Utah was never really able to settle into the game and largely failed to threaten the Courage going forward. The half ended with North Carolina managing six shots, with just one on goal, 14 crosses and seven corners. If there was one negative to draw from the half it was the that Kristen Hamilton drew a yellow card within 20 minutes for the second game in a row.
As the second 45 got underway, it seemed that the press would again put the Royals FC on their heels. In just the 4th minute of the half, the Courage won a ball and broke on transition forcing Abby Smith into a diving save. However, only minutes later in the 52nd minute, largely against the run of play, a miscommunication between Rowland and Dahlkemper let a ball bounce through the goal box, letting Katie Stengel score her first goal of the season for Utah.
In the 55th minute, perhaps looking to reduce her minutes or wanting to get a different look to the attack, Riley went to his bench and subbed Jess McDonald for Darian Jenkins. While it seemed like North Carolina would have their chances after the equalizer, Utah began pressing the Courage and made their attempts to find a winner difficult. Things would get worse for North Carolina in the 66th minute when Rowland hit a clearance poorly giving Brittany Ratcliffe a clean shot on goal. She made no mistake and put Royals FC ahead 2-1.
Immediately after the goal, Riley made his second substitution of the game taking out Hamilton for Sam Mewis. As the half wore on, the Courage struggled to find chances and allowed yet another goal against the run of play with a defensive miscue. This time Smith came out of the net to clear the ball, a Royals defender got in her path pursued by Lynn Williams. Smith’s attempt to clear was partly blocked and fell to the path of a charging Crystal Dunn. It looked as if a Royals player had attempted a to clear the ball, missing it and sending it into her own goal - however, Dunn was credited with the score.
North Carolina searched for a game winner, but it seemed like three keeper howlers would be the max for the day. In the end, North Carolina played well enough to win but the keeper howlers and defensive lapses cost them in the end.
- Abby Smith was an absolute wall for Royals FC. The keeper single-handedly kept her team in the game as the Courage sent shot after shot at her net but a poor play cost her team all three points.
- Jess McDonald was none to happy to be subbed of before the hour mark going straight to the bench, walking past the Courage coaches.
- Katelyn Rowland did not have a good day on the pitch. Between the miscommunication with Dahlkemper and the poor clearance both leading to goals, it would seem that Riley may need to make a choice about who he prefers in net between her and D’Angelo.
- Sam Mewis again come on as a substitute and seems to be getting closer to match fitness, but she may be another few weeks off of being ready to start.