The North Carolina Courage earned a hard-fought 1-1 draw against the Chicago Red Stars on Friday night. Lynn Williams seemed to score the go-ahead goal late in regulation, but it was waved off for some unknown reason. The Courage have already secured the top spot in the league, but the draw was a setback in their attempt to make history in 2018. The team now sits at 15W-5D-1L with 50 points. The record for most points in a season was set by Seattle Reign FC in 2014 with 54. That Reign team also holds the record for most wins (16), most goals scored (50), and highest goal differential (+30). All of those records are within reach for the Courage, but they will be difficult to break after the draw last night. North Carolina also still has a shot at breaking their own record of 11 shutouts from last season, but they would need to hold opponents scoreless in their final three matches. If they managed to break that record they would also have the lowest goals against of any team in a season.
Things seemed to be going well in the first half. Despite midfielder McCall Zerboni sitting out with an ankle injury, the Courage managed to have the better of the chances and play in the first half. The lone goal of the first half came when Jess McDonald dribbled took the ball toward the end line on the right side of goal. She sent a cross that went just over the head of Lynn Williams, and Debinha was making the back post run uncovered. Both Chicago defenders moved to Williams and Debinha sent an easy header past goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher. The Courage let off the gas a bit after that 21st-minute goal, but they still had a number of good chances that they just couldn’t finish in the first half.
The second half was something of a disaster for North Carolina. They came out extremely flat and ended up on the back foot for the whole first 15 minutes. The constant pressure finally paid off for Chicago in the 64th minute when forward Sam Kerr was able to put a beautiful header into the back of the net off a cross from midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo. The equalizing goal re-energized the Courage, but they could never quite find their finishing touch.
The Courage seemed to score the go-ahead goal in the 84th minute when a long, looping ball was sent into the Chicago goal box. A misplay by Naeher and the defense allowed Williams to go up and head the ball into the net, but the official called a foul against Williams. She protested briefly as she stared at the ref in disbelief, and despite generating a bit more offensive pressure the game ended 1-1.
This was the second consecutive match with head coach Paul Riley opting to hold his substitutions until very late in the game. Kristen Hamilton replaced McDonald in the 77th minute and Heather O’Reilly came on in the 81st minute for Debinha. Last week Riley made substitutions in the 78th and 85th minutes. The Courage were also outscored and outplayed in the second half of both games. The trend is concerning, but neither of these matches have been especially important for NC in the grand scheme of things. The best part of the last two matches was midfielder Denise O’Sullivan. She was asked to play forward in the box last week and defensively this week, but she was absolutely excellent in both roles. I remember thinking that she might not fit into the system when she joined the team last year, but she is a huge part of the team’s success in 2018.