Two NWSL Cup contenders squared off in the first game of the 2019 season and the match was perhaps a little typical of two teams still settling into the season. For the Courage, the game would be a story of missed chances with the Red Stars needing just one opportunity to take a point on the road as the game ended 1-1 in a comeback draw for the home side.
The Courage would lineup in their well known 4-4-2 box formation with the first pick roster, minus Debinha with O’Sullivan starting in the right side no. 10 role.
[Starting XI] Returning 10 defending NWSL Champions to the field in the first Starting XI of the season.#NCvCHI | #NoFinishLine pic.twitter.com/OrzQvx4sFn— NC Courage (@TheNCCourage) April 13, 2019
The Courage meant business in the first 15 minutes of the game. In that span, they unleashed eight shots against the Red Stars and were all over the visitors. Still, the Chicago defense held strong, if not being under duress, during the early onslaught. However, in that time, the team only managed one shot on target - the Courage continuing the quantity trend in the early going in 2019 it would seem.
It felt like the goal for the Courage would come at any moment, and Denise O’Sullivan put a shot just over the bar in the 25th minute.
25'- @OSullivanDenise with a shot right over the net.#NCvCHI 0-0 pic.twitter.com/6IGG1fR7OH— NC Courage (@TheNCCourage) April 13, 2019
Alas, for all of the pressure and all of the shots, the Red Stars would find the first goal of the game. Chicago would win possession in the Courage attacking third where Yuki Nagasato would spring Sam Kerr on a counter. The Australian would jet past the Courage defense forcing Stephanie Labbe to come off of her line, the keeper failed to contain Kerr leaving an open net chance for the attacker. Sam Kerr doesn’t miss chances like that and the Red Stars would take a 1-0 lead in the 26th minute.
First shot. First goal.@samkerr1 starts 2019 how she ended 2018: scoring. pic.twitter.com/XcFapfJjpu— Chicago Red Stars (@chiredstarsPR) April 13, 2019
As the half wore on, the Red Stars settled into the game and began pushing for a second goal despite holding a 1-0 lead. The visitors also began an effective press against the Courage and were somewhat effective at disrupting the North Carolina buildup. Still in the 42nd Lynn Williams would provide a strong chance for the Courage after Crystal Dunn sent a long ball to the forward who sent a shot forcing Alyssa Naeher to make a diving save. Aside from a set piece that was... ambitious? The Courage would settle for being behind a goal as the first 45 came to a close.
The Courage really only had themselves to blame for being behind. The team was dangerous but inefficient in front of goal out-shooting their opponents 14-3, but only two of those tries went on frame. Upon restarting, the Courage spent the start of the second half again peppering the Red Stars defensive third with shots and crosses. Through 15 minutes, the Red Stars nearly doubled their lead as a long ball from Alyssa Mautz found Arin Wright, however the defender’s shot went just wide.
Finally, in the 66th minute, the Courage would find a goal thanks to an effort by Crystal Dunn on the team’s 17th shot of the game. The Red Stars, perhaps preparing for a long throw, were caught somewhat sleeping as Jess McDonald took a quick throw to Dunn who created some space for a shot and brought the game even at 1-1.
After that, it was an all out effort by both teams to try and secure a valuable three points against a potential playoff rival. Coach Paul Riley would add fresh legs to the match with a pair of substitutes. Jess McDonald made way for Kristen Hamilton and draft pick Leah Pruitt would come in for McCall Zerboni in the 71st minute.
Another chance for the Courage would come in the 79th when a corner sent to the top of the box found the forehead of Abby Erceg. The Courage captain would send a strong header that was again saved by Naeher.
79'- @abbyerceg uses her head and comes so close. Another Naeher save.#NCvCHI 1-1 pic.twitter.com/dy1BwEpPtR— NC Courage (@TheNCCourage) April 14, 2019
It seemed like the game was set to end uneventfully until injury time when a Red Stars shot from Sam Kerr would deflect off of the bottom of the crossbar. Luckily for the Courage, the ball would be cleared off of the line and the 1-1 draw would hold.
Overall, the match had some great signs for the Courage. They were their typical chance creating selves, but looked a bit early season with a lack of finishing ultimately sealing their fate as they took just one point in their season opener. This graphic really tells the story of how the game ended 1-1.
That’s what 24 shots and six on goal looks like. Still, give Naeher credit - the netminder was probably the difference in the game for Chicago and made five huge saves for the visitors. North Carolina will look for their first win on short rest as the team takes on the Orlando Pride in another tough matchup to begin 2019.