The NC Courage got a 0-0 draw on Friday night away to the Utah Royals, earning the result despite having six players on international duty. Abby Dahlkemper, Crystal Dunn, Jaelene Hinkle, Merrit Mathias, Samantha Mewis and McCall Zerboni are all away preparing for the Tournament of Nations, but a stout defensive effort secured a point. A scoreless draw is usually seen as a successful failure in terms of soccer achievements, but a road point is nothing to throw away. In addition, the Courage managed to clinch home-field advantage during the NWSL playoffs, so at least the team knows it will be at home by the time September rolls around.
Anyway, here are a few notes from the match:
North Carolina is a shot producing machine - Even without the usual starting midfield duo of McCall Zerboni and Sam Mewis, the Courage managed 21 shots in the game with four on target. This isn’t really something new and not getting any goals out of those 21 shots is somewhat troubling, but it’s also a testament to the team that they can create these chances with so many missing pieces. In the end, sometimes the ball just doesn’t go into the net:
The team’s depth is up for a challenge - Of all the teams North Carolina has faced this year, Utah has given them the most trouble. The Courage needed a late goal back in April the first time these sides met and ended up drawing 2-2. Then in June, Utah beat North Carolina 1-0 on a last minute goal giving the Courage their only loss of the year. While the Courage didn’t win on Friday, a road point is always a positive result and doing it without six regular starters shows that the reserves and even special signees are up for the task of stepping in when needed.
The defense is very good - This might sound obvious with a team that has 14 goals allowed, but defensive cohesiveness is something that is difficult to achieve and is harder to maintain when three usual defensive starters are missing. The team did a great job limiting opportunities for Utah and only allowed five shots. A promising sign for the team is that Yuri Kawamura is back getting meaningful minutes after missing most this and last season with a knee injury.
Heather O’Reilly is here for the team - After joining the Courage, Heather O’Reilly has three appearances and two starts and two substitute appearances. So far she has been as advertised as a versatile player who has started both at right and left back. It is a great sign for the Courage that a player with the attacking talent that O’Reilly has is willing to do what is asked of her to be a part of the team and surely that will pay off as the team marches into the playoffs.