It was a good night for Dirty South Soccer Saturday as both the North Carolina Courage and Atlanta United crushed their respective foes from Orlando to the collective tune of 7-0.
The Courage played their part in the sweep early on as they faced off in the midday heat of Orlando. The game encountered a short lightning delay, but kickoff was moved back just ten minutes and the delay didn’t dampen the spirit of the fans or players. Jaelene Hinkle was a surprise scratch from this match after being listed as questionable on the injury report, and the Courage also played the whole game without midfielder Sam Mewis who was also questionable. The newest member of the Courage, Heather O’Reilly, attended the game with the team but did not suit up for the match.
Things started off well for the Courage as they registered a shot on goal in the first twenty seconds of the match, but after a furious first ten minutes things calmed down and it looked like Orlando would put the first points on the board. Off a corner kick into the six, forward Jess McDonald accidentally headed the ball past Courage goalkeeper Katelyn Rowland, but the goal was nullified because of an illegal push by Alex Morgan against Abby Dahlkemper.
Things swung for the Courage abruptly in the 37th minute. Debinha collected the ball just outside the penalty area and passed it to Dunn, but the Orlando defense cut off the quick 1-2 play. Dunn smartly chipped the ball over the defenders, but it went over Debinha’s head. Lynn Williams chested the ball down to Debinha who hit the ball hard to Orlando goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris’ right. Harris got a hand on the ball, but it slowly and painfully rolled across the line for North Carolina’s first goal.
The Courage got immediately back on the front foot. Midfielder Denise O’Sullivan stepped in front of a pass out of the Orlando defensive third and drove toward the box. She saw Debinha to her right and slid the ball over to her at the top of the box. Debinha decided not to shoot, and she kept the switch going. Merritt Mathias made a run to the right side of the box and took a first-touch shot off Debinha’s pass. The ball glanced off the elbow of an Orlando defender, but the deflection caused Harris to misjudge the ball and it found the back of the net in the 39th minute.
Amazingly, the Courage were back on attack again in the 40th minute. Denise O’Sullivan once again sparked the offense. She collected the ball near midfield and played a perfect pass between two defenders to Crystal Dunn near the top of the box. Dunn took one touch and played a perfectly weighted through-ball to a streaking Jess McDonald. Jess waited until the last moment and struck the ball into the top-right corner of the goal, past the outstretched hands of Harris. The Courage went from 0-0 to 3-0 in just three minutes.
The Courage defended their lead for the rest of the match. The second half was pretty well dominated by Orlando, including a stretch of five consecutive corner kicks for the home team, but on multiple occasions Rowland came up huge for the Courage. She was aggressive in the air, tipping away crosses and corners, and she made at least one amazing save against both Marta and Alex Morgan to preserve the three-goal lead and earn a shutout for her defense.
The Courage (11W-3D-1L) now sit a full 14 points clear of second place with just nine matches left in the season. North Carolina will be back in action to face off against the Chicago Red Stars at home on July 4th. The Courage have been unable to beat Chicago in their four regular season meetings, but they did best the Red Stars in the semifinals of the 2017 NWSL playoffs.