Rookie forward Frannie Crouse made her first appearance of the season and scored a late goal to give the North Carolina Courage a 1-1 draw against the Houston Dash. The Courage remain undefeated at the halfway point of the season while the Dash squandered an opportunity to move into a tie for third place.
A desperate match from whistle to whistle
North Carolina came into this match at a significant deficit compared to the Dash. The Courage were missing six players to international duty while Houston was at full strength and on a two-game winning streak. Defenders Abby Dahlkemper and Merritt Mathias, midfielders Sam Mewis and McCall Zerboni, and forward Crystal Dunn were all away from the team preparing for games with the USWNT while midfielder Denise O’Sullivan was preparing for World Cup qualifying matches with Ireland. Furthermore, forward Kristen Hamilton suffered a back injury and goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo was still out with an ankle sprain.
In their absence, the Courage came out with an interesting lineup in the brutal heat of June in Houston. With the heat index never falling below 100 degrees Fahrenheit, a brand new lineup featuring players who had not yet played a minute for the Courage would take the field against the Houston Dash.
The first half was probably the worst half of soccer that the Courage had played to this point in the season. On two separate occasions, Kyah Simon and Rachel Daly found themselves faced up, one-v-one against Katelyn Rowland, but a solid save and a miss wide kept the game scoreless. After 52 brutal minutes, the whistle mercilessly blew and the Courage were able to go into halftime. It was sheer luck that the Dash left the first half without a goal after taking seven shots while the Courage had only two, and it was clear that the lack of continuity amongst the players was as mentally draining for the players as the heat was physically.
The Courage finally made a costly mistake right at the beginning of the second half. After a fruitless offensive possession, the Courage were caught out of position. Dash goalkeeper Jane Campbell was able to send a long ball out of the back to Kealia Ohai, who collected the ball and then blazed past Cari Roccaro who was trying to defend her. Roccaro, who had not played a minute for the Courage this season, did not have pace to catch Ohai, and Kaelia was able to take a shot that glanced off Rowland’s hand from point-blank range and found the back of the net. A mixture of unfamiliar personnel and heat led to that goal, but the Courage came back with a vengeance.
After the goal, the Courage offense picked up the pace and started putting pressure on Houston for the first time in the match. Despite the pressure, even the substitutes started to wear down, and it was looking like the additions of Darian Jenkins and Frannie Crouse would not be enough to net the Courage a goal for the first time in 2018. Then, abruptly after the water break, the Courage looked like their old selves.
Yuri Kawamura controlled a long clear near the midfield line, and she passed it to Roccaro who sent it to Debinha. The Brazilian midfielder played the ball wide left to Hinkle, who dribbled up and sent it central to Jess McDonald. McDonald found Roccaro, who ran up into the correct position off the ball, and she played the ball wide right to Eddy. Eddy sent the ball into the box where Crouse headed the ball down and sent a hesitant rocket into the top netting of the goal. For one brief moment the team played without hesitating and it turned into a goal. The rest of the game passed slowly, and both teams looked like they were at the absolute end of their respective ropes as they slogged along toward the final whistle.
Amazingly, after not playing a single minute of competitive soccer for over a year, Kawamura came in and played the full 90 minutes in this match. Nobody on the Courage played particularly well, but whatever talk they had during the water break was sufficient to earn them a point and a place in history as one of three NWSL teams to start a season with 12 games undefeated. Now they get to sit back and watch their teammates battle with the People’s Republic of China before they head back out onto the pitch together in June 16th at home against Utah Royal FC.