The North Carolina Courage fought back to earn a 1-1 draw at home against the Chicago Red Stars on Sunday afternoon. The game would also see the return of Sam Mewis after she missed time early in the year and had come off of the bench in recent games. Mewis returned to her central midfield spot in the now familiar 4-4-2 that Paul Riley has, perhaps surprisingly, stuck with week in and week out so far in 2018. As for the game itself, well it may have been a frustrating game that illustrated a few weaknesses that the Courage have in 2018.
The first half was largely even with each side having chances to begin the match. Each team traded chances with an early try from Crystal Dunn in the 16th minute that went over the bar followed immediately by a shot from McCall Zerboni that forced Red Stars keeper Alyssa Naeher into an early save.
17'- @McCaLL2 follows up with a strike that requires a diving save by Naeher!#NCvCHI 0-0 pic.twitter.com/tM7KAQvne3— NC Courage (@TheNCCourage) May 6, 2018
The shots would keep coming throughout the half with North Carolina largely dictating the pace of the game and finding ways to get through the Chicago defense. Finishing was yet again an issue as the NWSL leaders in shots so far in 2018 failed to find the net as the first 45 wore on. Then in the 38th minute, North Carolina would come to regret their futility in front of goal. Despite being absolutely smothered by Abby Dahlkemper, 2017 Golden Boot winner Sam Kerr managed to find an inch of space to get a shot off in the 38th minute. It would be all she would need to score a goal to put the Red Stars ahead.
.@samkerr1 doing what she does best. @chiredstarsPR with the lead in Cary!#NCvCHI | #NWSL | @go90Sports pic.twitter.com/WJ3LundLSe— NWSL (@NWSL) May 6, 2018
The Courage would have another chance soon after in the 42nd minute when a Merritt Mathias cross was sent into the box. The ball fell for a shot from Debinha that was deflected back in front of goal only to be sent over the bar on the shot off of the rebound from Lynn Williams. It is the kind of chance that the Courage failed to capitalize on that should have been buried and seen them leading or at least even in the half. As it turned out, North Carolina would have six shots to the Chicago one going into the half.
As the second 45 got underway, it seemed like the Red Stars were content to hold on for dear life. The Courage came forward and took shot after shot forcing Naeher to make save after save. In fact, North Carolina would end the match with an astounding 42 shots in the game with 15 on goal. They dominated possession too, controlling the ball for 58% of the match. Still, the ball would not go into the net and the Red Stars keeper was superb on the day making 12 saves.
In the 66th minute, it seemed like the Courage had found a break through finally. A cross from Mathias led to a missed clearance by Red Stars midfielder Danielle Colaprico. The ball fell to Crystal Dunn whose back was facing goal, she spun around to meet the ball and it seemed like her shot would even the game but a diving save by Naeher kept the Chicago lead intact.
.@AlyssaNaeher is out here saving the day, y'all. #NCvCHI | #NWSL | @go90Sports pic.twitter.com/Tlp8pm0np6— NWSL (@NWSL) May 6, 2018
Still, the Courage kept getting chances and a equalizer seemed inevitable. Finally, in the 82nd minute McCall Zerboni would find the back of the net for North Carolina. On one of the 12 corners for NC on the match a ball would find Abby Erceg who got a foot to it, centering the ball to Zerboni who made no mistake and took her shot on the volley finally firing it past Naeher.
A @McCaLL2 volley has leveled it! 1-1 with under 10 to play #NCvCHI | #NWSL | @go90Sports pic.twitter.com/UhYZkPi7Mo— NWSL (@NWSL) May 6, 2018
The two time 2018 player of the week’s goal would be enough to keep the score even as the teams shared the points. For Chicago, the match will seem like a decent result on the road, though their defensive weaknesses were badly exposed the entire match. North Carolina was able to find space for crosses and shots the entire game and though Naeher was superb in the game, in truth she bailed out her defense all game long. For North Carolina, the game showed that they still need to work on their finishing and perhaps not settle for crosses, the team took 31 in the match, when their opponent is conceding possession for the entire match. That said, the team found a way to come back late, never gave up, and remains undefeated on the year.