The NC Courage were looking to keep their undefeated season going as they took on Utah Royals FC in Cary, North Carolina. Unfortunately, the team would not come away with at least a point in a match for the first time all year as they fell to the Utah Royals 1-0 in stunning fashion...
As the game began, the NC Courage dominated possession in the first half hour of the game. The team managed to effectively cut through the Utah midfield, but once they reached the final third the defense limited the NC chances. This seemed like a fairly effective strategy for the Royals, North Carolina has spent all year finding space for their dangerous attackers to find shot after shot - often upwards of 20 a game - and eventually one or two or four would go in. Aside from a few shots that went well wide and well over the Utah goal, the best chance came in the 32nd minute when Crystal Dunn received a through ball outside of the 6 yard box from McCall Zerboni. Dunn fired a strong shot, but it was saved by Utah Keeper Abby Smith.
For their part, Utah largely settled for long range shots GORY 38th minute. After a ball that North Carolina failed to clear lingered in their attacking third, it fell to the feet of Katrina Gorry. The Utah midfielder squared the ball up and smashed it at goal. Luckily for the Courage it went over the bar, but it was a reminder that Utah could be a dangerous team and find chances from range. The half would come to an end with North Carolina being frustrated by the Utah defense in the final third with the Royals probably content to go into the locker rooms at 0-0.
As the second half began, North Carolina seemed to have found the style and aggressiveness that they had when they beat the Portland Thorns 4-1. In fact, each team seemed to be pushing for a goal. A chance from Debinha showed that the Brazilian wasn’t suffering from fatigue after her time with the national team. In the 51st minute when Jaylene Hinkle sent a long-range cross that was flicked toward the box as Jess McDonald made a run. Her header would land in the arms of Smith and the game would stay at 0-0.
In the 64th minute, a corner kick would find it’s way to Crystal Dunn who sent a shot toward goal that looked like it was destined for the roof of the net. Unfortunately, it would hit the crossbar and go out for a goal kick. In the 72nd minute, Coach Paul Riley would go to his bench bringing Lynn Williams on for Jess McDonald. The attacker would add a spark to the NC Courage as the team looked for a go-ahead goal, but the Utah defense held strong.
As the game wore on it seemed that it would be a night when the ball just wouldn’t go into the net. Utah made a change in the 77th minute substituting Gorry for Brittany Ratcliffe and again went to the bench in the 85th minute with manager Laura Harvey taking off attacker Amy Rodriguez for Elise Thorsnes. The effect was putting another player behind the ball and making a winner for the Courage seem all the more unlikely. And it would never come for North Carolina - rather, it would come for Utah.
In the 94th minute a Utah free kick would wind up at the top of the box. Ratcliffe would take it down, falling in the process - but she would quickly find her feet again and knock home the winning goal from about 20 yards out on a looping shot that went over the head of keeper Katelyn Rowland.
North Carolina would search for an equalizer as the game crept into the 96th minute but it would never come. In some ways, it seemed inevitable that the wastefulness of the Courage would finally come back to haunt the team as North Carolina managed 15 shots with four on goal, but couldn’t find one that would give them a win.
After the game, Dirty South Soccer reporter Aaron Bellamy interviewed Kaleigh Kurtz. The center back was making her third start of the season taking the place of Abby Dahlkemper. The usual starter was out due to an injury suffered with the U.S. Women’s National Team. Kurtz discussed the team’s performance saying, “we have room for improvement. It was a decent first half, but we came out in the second half and heard the stuff that Paul was telling us in the locker room and stuck to what he wanted us to do.”
While the team managed to generate chances and contain the Royals, it wouldn’t be enough. Although Kurtz wasn’t involved with marking Ratcliffe on the goal, she took responsibility and discussed her thoughts on her play saying, “I was a little disappointed in the last two minutes trying to figure out - what did I do; what could I have done better communication wise? Especially with that last play.” Still, the team had a solid effort in the game and nearly escaped with a draw. Had a few things broken differently, or a shot or two not hit the bar, the Courage could have come away with a draw or even a win.
Looking ahead, the Courage will travel to Seattle to take on the Reign next Saturday and try to get another winning streak started.