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Head ref gifts the NC Courage a 1-0 win over Houston Dash

It wasn’t the way we wanted to win

On a night that should have been about soccer, the ref stole the show.

The North Carolina Courage played their fourth game in 11 days last night when they Hosted the Houston Dash at Sahlen’s Stadium. Coming off of blowout wins against Portland Thorns FC and the Orlando Pride, everyone expected the Courage to put up a similarly impressive performance against Houston. Instead, the home team came out flat and looked flustered throughout the night. They were consistently prevented from taking high-probability shots by the Houston defense; instead opting for shots from distance outside of the box. Those shots might have been OK, but they weren’t even making Houston goalkeeper Jane Campbell protect the net. We ended the night with 18 total shots and just 5 on goal.

Houston did an excellent job of closing down on the Courage in the midfield, dropping deep defensively, and not letting themselves get overextended. The bunkering defensive performance almost completely took away their offensive prowess, but it was certainly doing the job of preventing NC from scoring. The storyline of inept refereeing was consistently present throughout the match, but it came to a roaring crescendo in the dying minutes of the match. Crystal Dunn went down in the box as she battled for a headed ball, and the head referee immediately blew his whistle and pointed to the spot. There might have been some contact, but it was mutually given between both players. This was a terrible call that sent Sam Mewis to the spot in the 87th minute of a 0-0 game.

Mewis scored, the Courage ran out the clock, and the Courage won in the most unfortunate way after playing as the clearly superior team through most of the match. I would never expect for Mewis to step up and purposefully miss the shot, but this win definitely feels bad. North Carolina did not do enough to win, and the fact that they were provided a free goal feels wrong.

The whole thing feels so much worse because the ref didn’t give Houston a much more egregious penalty opportunity earlier in the match. Jaelene Hinkle took down Sofia Huerta as she guarded the ball, and it was a pretty clear offense. He also decided not to stop play and award a foul to the Courage right outside of the box because he deemed Dunn facing up against 8 Dash defenders to be an advantageous situation. He later played advantage and did not give a card for a hard, late tackle suffered by Denise O’Sullivan before the penalty. Kristen Hamilton kicked Allysha Chapman in the face and didn’t get a card, either. This was just a poorly officiated game from start to finish, and I wish I could have confidence that he would lose his job as a head ref in the league. Unfortunately, that’s just not the kind of thing the NWSL is focused on. They’re not focused on anything.

So the Courage won, but it was in poor fashion. They’re now assured a spot in the playoffs and have nearly clinched the NWSL Shield for the third year in a row.

They will need to bounce back with a much stronger performance on Saturday when they travel to Sandy, UT to take on Utah Royals FC.