When the opening whistle blew on this match the casual observer might have expected a close game. The Houston Dash and North Carolina Courage were tied with 4 points on the season at the top of the table, but by the time the game ended it would be North Carolina alone in first place. The Courage have now played six matches against Houston since joining the league in 2017, and they’ve won five, drawn once, and outscored Houston 17 to 2. There were a few moments in this match when Houston looked dangerous, but this game was almost all Courage.
The game plan that wrote itself
When the Houston Dash put out their starting lineup for the match it featured an NWSL débutante at right back. 25-year-old Satara Murray was starting for Houston for the first time in her career. She had played with Arsenal in England from 2015-2018 and joined the Dash during the offseason. It seemed like a foregone conclusion that the game plan would revolve around probing the right side of Houston’s defense with the skill and speed of Crystal Dunn and Jaelene Hinkle, and, well, that’s exactly what happened.
This is no shade thrown at Murray. She played admirably for the first 30ish minutes of the match, but it was an impossible task. Then, when the clock hit 30, she made her first big mistake. Jess McDonald collected the ball at the end line, blew past Murray, and then was tackled from behind. It was a foolish challenge by Murray and gave the Courage a PK attempt. Of Course, Lynn Williams badly miss-hit the ball and Houston goalkeeper Jane Campbell saved it easily. For all of their good qualities, the Courage are terrible at converting PK attempts. Houston has now faced a PK in their first three matches this season without conceding a goal on any of them.
That bad feeling wouldn’t last for long, though. The Courage continued to pressure Houston, and eventually they found the first goal of the match in stoppage time. Abby Dahlkemper sent a long ball into the box right at Murray, who was beaten in the air by McDonald. She headed the ball down and Campbell made a diving save attempt, but Houston center back Amber Brooks headed the ball up into the air. Williams was waiting and headed into the open net.
In the 60th minute, Murray would get roasted by Dunn, who sent a perfect shross into the net for her fourth goal of the season.
Then Hinkle beat her, sent a cross into the box, and Debinha scored her first goal of 2019 and the 100th goal in NC Courage history.
And finally, Leah Pruitt scored her first career goal! The rookie, who was taken fourth-overall in the 2019 NWSL College Draft, has come on as a substitute in each game this season. On Sunday, she made a great run into the box and was able to finish a chance that any good pro should.
Unfortunately, Houston would go on to score a goal in the 86th minute. Forward Rachel Daly collected the ball and charged at Abby Erceg. Daly faked right, pulled the ball back, and created some space for herself to the left of Erceg. She sent a beautiful curling shot into the top-left side of goal to prevent the clean sheet.
In all, it was a great game for the Courage. You can see from the shot graphic that the Courage focused heavily on Murray’s side of the pitch. Next weekend, North Carolina will be back at home as they face off against Sky Blue FC, but they won’t have any of their USWNT players. Mewis, Dunn, Dahlkemper, McDonald, and Zerboni - and maybe someone else - will all be gone. It should be a really exciting game.