The NC Courage traveled to Washington, er Maryland, to take on the Spirit as the World Cup players began trickling back to their NWSL clubs. Joining the Courage in the game would be Debinha and the team was obviously happy to have her back. North Carolina did manage a draw against Portland, but coming into the match have just one win since the start of May. A big part of that less than stellar form was due to a shift in formation and tactics as the press wasn’t quite working for the Courage with so many players absent. That would change and the team would get a 2-1 win on the back of goals from Debinha and Leah Pruitt.
North Carolina would assert their more familiar pressing style with more effectiveness since the start of World Cup camp. The team was obviously rejuvenated by the arrival of their no. 10 and Debinha’s impact on the match would be felt immediately. Going forward, North Carolina was dangerous and creating chances all night. Defensively, the team was luckier than good perhaps. A missed penalty and badly taken one v. one by Dorian Bailey summed up the danger the Courage faced on the night - still if it wasn’t for the way those plays broke it would have been a different result.
That said, Washington was not exactly content to be run over by North Carolina. After an uneven first half, the Spirit would come charging out of the gate and exploit the Courage backline. Perhaps the late scratch of Abby Erceg accounts for some of that, but the Spirit were dangerous at times in the game. In the end, they failed to score until Cheyna Matthews found the net. Alas, the story would be squandered chances for the Spirit as the team lost at home for the first time all year.
That’s more like it
Drink it in everyone, the 4-2-2-2 - the best time in soccer. With Debinha back the dual no. 10 threat was re-established with the Brazilian alongside McCall Zerboni. Sadly, Abby Erceg would be a late scratch with Ryan Williams taking her spot in the backline.
That formation would play the tactics it is known for - the suffocating high press that forces turnovers and chances in the opponents’ half. The constant pressure kept the Spirit from being able to put together anything dangerous going forward in the early going. Still, in refrain that has been sung throughout the season, the Courage couldn’t find the back of the net until past the half-hour mark.
They did have their chances though and the inclusion of Debinha added a missing element of creativity and aggressive attacking that the team needed in recent matches. Toward the 40th minute mark though, Washington began getting some effective buildup. A chance did materialize when Chloe Logarzo sent a shot toward Katelyn Rowland’s goal that was clearly handled by Lynn Williams. Somehow the ref didn’t see it and no price was paid for the error.
A breakthrough would come in thrilling fashion when Samantha Staab committed a foul in the box. Debinha lined up to take the penalty and send her shot low only to be saved by Aubrey Bledsoe. The Spirit keeper wouldn’t be able to smother it though and the Brazilian tapped it home for a 1-0 lead.
At first if you don't succeed...@Debinha7 has her initial PK effort save by @AubreyBledsoe, but tucks home the rebound to give @TheNCCourage the lead right before half. #WASvNC pic.twitter.com/xPvlCatjWj— NWSL (@NWSL) June 30, 2019
The second half opened with the Spirit coming out on the front foot. Dorian Bailey timed a perfect run and a slicing through-ball broke the Courage lines - she should have done immensely better with her shot, but Rowland came up with an easy save.
Less than a minute later, Hatch would find some space at the top of the 18 yard box and send a dipping shot that Rowland again saved.
The Courage would eventually capitalize on the first good chance they’d have in the half when Lynn Williams picked the pocket of a Spirit defender after the Washington keeper and Amy Harrison played a ball back and forth one too many times. Her pass found Leah Pruitt who took a nice shot and the Courage would go up 2-0.
The Spirit would come alive again around the 70 minute mark with Cheyna Matthews sending a shot wide and Bayley Feist forcing Cari Roccaro to make a big stop. Each team would trade chances as the match crept toward it conclusion - but the Spirit would strike before the Courage could see the game out. Crystal Thomas sent this nice header past Rowland, as Jaelene Hinkle took a nap, to pull Washington to within one.
As the game wore on the Spirit would search for an equalizer, but North Carolina did enough to hold on. The win was a solid effort on the road for the Courage, but the team will be glad to see Abby Erceg once the New Zealand centerback is healthy both in terms of skill and leadership.
NC Courage Hero of the Game - Debinha
More than just scoring the goal, Debinha brought an attitude and skill set that has been lacking in recent weeks. The Brazilian was the center of gravity in the attack and clearly gave the Spirit much to contend with while she was on the field. Not only that, but after playing a packed World Cup schedule and just rejoining the team this week, her work-rate did not suffer after so many matches and a long trans-Atlantic flight. The Courage will need her to continue to have these kinds of games as the World Cup wears on.