On Saturday night, the North Carolina Courage beat the Orlando Pride for the third time this season. The 6-1 scoreline would have been a major headline if the Courage hadn’t just beaten a much better team (Portland Thorns FC) by a wider margin (6-0) three days earlier. What a great week to be a Courage fan.
There’s no need to dwell for long on the win over Orlando. We beat them 4-0 in the preseason, 5-0 in our first meeting, 3-0 in the second, and then 6-1 on Saturday. The Pride are bad. Sam Mewis and Marritt Mathias both got a full night of rest, but Jessica McDonald was forced to come on early because of an eye injury to Kristen Hamilton. She was back out on the bench and participated in the post game celebrations, so she’s probably going to be fine.
HAO got her due on her night
If the entire universe had been planned for this night, nobody in the Courage organization could have done it better. North Carolina, one of the best teams in the history of American club soccer, was facing off against the worst team in the league on a night honoring Heather Ann O’Reilly. HAO hadn’t been a big part of the North Carolina Courage on the pitch, but she was a huge part of the team behind the scenes. If you don’t believe it, you should have seen how Merritt Mathias broke down in tears when she heard Paul Riley giving a speech about O’Reilly in the post match celebration.
Anyways, this was the absolute perfect send-off match. The Courage could absolutely afford to bench Mathias in favor of O’Reilly at the right back position, because the Pride are completely toothless. They didn’t even have Marta or Alex Morgan healthy for this match. So HAO got the start and played a grueling first half. She honestly looked completely spent towards the end of the first 45, but she gutted it out. In true HAO fashion, she just got stronger as the night went on. Riley moved her up in the formation in the dying minutes of the match, and she unleashed a cracking shot with her left foot...but Pride goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris rudely saved it. So she came back a few minutes later and banged it into the side netting with her right foot instead.
Now, it was a goal that brought the match to 5-1, so not the most important goal of her career, but it was still a beauty.
That wasn’t her most important Courage goal, even. The one she scored against Lyon in the previous ICC tournament in Miami was definitely more lasting, but this was the right shot for the right night. Oh, and then she got an assist when she slotted it through to Debinha just a few ticks later.
I almost cried myself when the team subbed her off in stoppage time and didn’t replace her. It was a moving moment in front of a record-setting crowd for the Courage. 9,500+ fans were there to cheer her career, and now she’s heading down the road to coach at UNC, her alma mater.
Records you say?
Two weekends ago, the North Carolina Courage beat Sky Blue FC 2-1 in a pretty flat performance. Those two goals brought the Courage to 34 on the season; far less than the Portland Thorns (39) and a mile behind the Courage’s final tally in 2018 (53). Then some magic happened, and the team racked up 12 goals in the next two matches. Depending on your adding skills, you might notice that they’re now sitting at 46 goals with four games left in the season. It feels almost inconceivable that they will fail to score seven goals in the next four weeks with the way they’re playing, but we’ll just have to wait and see. Scoring seven goals in four games would be daunting for most teams.
If you’re curious about any other records, they’re mostly out of reach. We’ve already allowed 19 goals this season, so there’s no way to match the 17 allowed in 2018. The goal differential in 2018 was +36, so the Courage would need to score 9 unanswered goals to close out the year to match that. Lynn Williams could still win the Golden Boot, but she’s currently 5 goals behind Chicago’s Sam Kerr. All told, the easy record is goals scored and then everything else is quite difficult. That’s ok, though, most teams don’t have even one record.