The NC Courage continued their unbeaten streak with their sixth win of the year against the Washington Spirit. The Courage were organized and in control throughout the game and were rewarded with a victory. Stop me if you’ve heard this - they were really effective at creating chances and cut apart their opponents’ defense but still just managed one goal. At some point, North Carolina’s ineffectiveness in front of goal is going to catch up with them, but that was not the case today. Though the team took 18 shots with 6 on goal, they would need just one to come away with three points.
The Courage got off to an early start with a quick chance from Crystal Dunn in the 8th minute. The benefit of Sam Mewis continuing to return to form was apparent as she played the ball through midfield and brought the ball up the pitch. She spotted Dunn making a run to her right and played her through on goal. The initial shot was blocked with the play setting the tone for much of the game: North Carolina would aggressively go for goal and the Spirit would bend but not break.
8' It's already on! @crysdunn_19 gets behind the defense early, but Aubrey Bledsoe comes up with the save.#NCvWAS 0-0 pic.twitter.com/1JBJSSDOHb— NC Courage (@TheNCCourage) May 12, 2018
Though they would not be as effective at creating chances and often had attacks snuffed out by the Courage press, Washington would manage nine shots in the match. Two came within two minutes of each other late in the first half. Washington seemed to be settling into the match when Mallory Pugh was played through on goal leaving her one on one with Katelyn Rowland in the 34th minute. The Carolina netminder came out of goal and in a combination of cutting off Push’s angle, and perhaps a little luck, forced the young USWNTer’s shot to go wide. Two minutes later, Estefi Banini tried a long range effort that would force Katelyn Rowland to make a diving stop.
Down at the other end, @rowland_katelyn came up with the right play against Pugh, then this stop vs. @EstefiBanini_10.#NCvWAS | #NWSL pic.twitter.com/PW2VKePSGS— NWSL (@NWSL) May 12, 2018
The Courage would end the half after being frustrated again as the first 45 came to a close. In the minutes after the attacking onslaught from Washington, the Courage would hit the crossbar and despite having the better of the chances, would go into the locker rooms even at zero with the Spirit.
The second half started off with a dangerous play that almost put the visitors ahead. After a foul 40 yards from goal, a Spirit free kick would fall to Tori Huster who took a close shot that was blocked by Rowland. Her save would stay in play and the rebound was sent in by Pugh, though her shot was blocked as well for a double save.
48' Brick. Wall. @rowland_katelyn#NCvWAS 0-0 pic.twitter.com/8aURzPrJdq— NC Courage (@TheNCCourage) May 13, 2018
As the half wore on, the Courage continued to look for a goal to put them ahead. Perhaps looking to get a new look to the attack, coach Paul Riley would substitute Crystal Dunn out of the game for Kristen Hamilton. Despite the success that Carolina would have at getting in behind the Spirit’s defense, it would finally come in the 63rd minute from a set piece. Jaelene Hinkle would send a free kick into the box that Abby Erceg would head home for the first goal of the game. It seemed that Erceg lost her marker as she went up for a header, but the finish left Aubrey Bledsoe with no chance at making a play.
63' Clinical from @aerceg5 for the opening goal! #NCvWAS 1-0 pic.twitter.com/adKgMQO58F— NC Courage (@TheNCCourage) May 13, 2018
In the wake of the goal, Carolina was content to sit back and absorb pressure from the Spirit. Riley was content with his lineup as the game wound down making his second substitute in the 83rd minute taking Jess McDonald off for Darian Jenkins in a swap of forwards. His final change would come when Debinha was taken off for Meredith Speck in the 89th minute. In the end, the Courage would come away with a 1-0 victory to remain unbeaten and in first place on the season.