North Carolina back on track against Sky Blue FC

The 2017 NWSL season’s first mid-week game promised a contest between the #1 and #2 teams in the league. The #1 team, the North Carolina Courage, were coming off the back of two straight defeats, while Sky Blue FC was a surprise #2 after winning two games in a row. When the dust settled on a rainy night Cary, N.C., it was the Courage who came away with a convincing victory.

1st Half

Sky Blue coach Christy Holly made several changes to his starting lineup, resting Sam Kerr and Raquel Rodriguez in favor of rookie McKenzie Meehan and Daphne Corboz. Paul Riley fielded a mostly full-strength side as Abby Erceg returned from red card suspension, only swapping starting keeper Sabrina D’Angelo for Kaitlyn Rowland and Taylor Smith for Makenzy Doniak.

The New Jersey side hung with the Courage through the opening 10 minutes and actually enjoyed the better of the possession, but their efforts to get behind the Courage’s backline were stymied. North Carolina began to assert themselves more as the first half wore on until Lynn Williams blasted in the opener in the 20th minute. The forward received the ball and took several quick touches to put Christie Pearce off-balance before unleashing a rocket into the far top corner, giving the Courage a 1-0 lead. It was Williams’ second goal in as many games and good for a team-leading third on the season.

Kailen Sheridan kept her team in the game with a record 11 saves (Source: Getty - Icon Sportswire)
Kailen Sheridan kept Sky Blue in the game with a record 11 saves | Source: Getty - Icon Sportswire

Sky Blue goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan was powerless on that play, but the 21-year old rookie did everything else for her team. Sheridan, who finished the evening with a club-record 11 saves, came up huge in the 33rd minute when she reached a fingertip to a shot from Jess McDonald. The touch was just enough to redirect the flight of the ball off the crossbar and prevent the Courage from doubling their lead.

The Courage were able to do exactly that in the 41st minute off a corner by Abby Dahlkemper. McDonald’s initial header was saved and spilled by Sheridan, and Samantha Mewis cleaned up the scrum in front of goal with a scooped shot. It gave the home team a 2-0 lead going into halftime.

2nd Half

Neither team made any changes at halftime, but the 54th-minute introduction of Sam Kerr did liven up Sky Blue’s offense. The forward made several strong runs, but as in the first half, Sky Blue looked short on ideas in the final third. She created a brilliant chance in the 74th minute with a run down the right channel, but her cross passed all the way through the Courage penalty box without any takers.

Sam Kerr's introduction was a bright spot for Sky Blue in the second half | Source: Sky Blue FC - Robyn McNeil
Sam Kerr's introduction was a bright spot for Sky Blue in the second half | Source: Sky Blue FC - Robyn McNeil

On the other side of the field, Lynn Williams kept Sheridan busy. In the 51st minute, she dug out a ball from two Sky Blue defenders and played an excellent cross into Taylor Smith, whose shot forced Sheridan into a save. Williams kept plugging away, and in the 76th minute almost grabbed a third goal herself when her shot from distance nearly slipped through Sheridan’s gloves in the wet conditions.

With the win, the Courage solidify their #1 spot and are a solid five points clear of the next team. Sky Blue (3-3-1) slip to third behind the Chicago Red Stars, but have a chance to get back on top this weekend when they host the Orlando Pride (1-2-3) on Saturday, May 27th at Yurcak Field at 7:00 pm ET. The North Carolina Courage (5-2-0) travel to Chicago to face the newly minted #2 team, the Red Stars (3-2-1), for the second time in a week. That game is at Toyota Park at 4:00 pm ET.