The National Women’s Soccer League returned tonight as the North Carolina Courage hosted Portland Thorns FC in their ninth match of the season. The hosts came back from being one-nil down in the first half to tieing the game up in the second half and almost getting the win late on.
Substitute Julia Spetsmark found the back of the net in the 59th minute to as the Courage found another gear in the second half.
The Courage started this game in the troubling form that had seen them only win three games from their last eight matches. The Thorns were all over the Courage and found their way to the back of the net thanks to Margaret Purce in the 26th minute. A long ball over the top allowed Purce to race on to it and as goalkeeper Samantha Leshnak advanced, Purce lobbed the ball over her head to give Portland the lead.
The Courage did not create many chances during that first half and when they did, most of their shots were wildly off target. In fact, after the first 45 minutes, the Courage had only registered two shots on target, not a statistic that Paul Riley would have liked to see at half-time. Lynn Williams in particular, was guilty of not having her “shooting boots” on throughout the game and on another day, could have won it for the Courage.
The second half saw a more energized NC Courage team as they penned the Thorns back for most of the half. That push towards the Thorns goal paid off in the 59th minute when Spetsmark got onto a ball by Merritt Mathias and volleyed it one-time over the goalkeeper.
That was a great effort by Spetsmark and exactly what the Courage deserved for their second half play.
The Courage continued to knock on the door for the game-winning goal and Spetsmark came close to getting her second in the 66th minute but her curling effort came off the post and any follow ups were blocked by the Portland backline. This was a theme throughout the rest of the match as North Carolina tried to find that second goal to win the game but ultimately could not and the game ended in a draw.
The NC Courage now sit in third place in the NWSL standings and after faltering in their last few matches, will be happy with their overall effort tonight against the Thorns. If the Courage play more like they did in the second half than the first, they will find themselves at the top of the table during the Women’s World Cup and be able to make another NWSL Championship run once the national team players return. They cannot afford to play like they did in the first half though, as that will see them keep dropping unnecessary points at this stage in the season.