The North Carolina Courage (10-5-0) defeated the Seattle Reign (6-4-6) at home for the second straight time, reclaiming the top spot in the NWSL standings in the process.
What International Break?
Both teams had multiple players busy on international duty during the league break. Seattle went without their two players who appeared in the Tournament of Nations. Neither Megan Rapinoe nor Rumi Utsugi made the trip to the East Coast after seeing significant minutes in the west-coast based games.
Luckily for the Reign Jess Fishlock was fit for match action. The Seattle midfielder played all 90 minutes in her first appearance since spraining her MCL in early July.
“I wouldn’t have gone on the pitch if I didn’t think my knee was fine and it would have held up everything I needed to do,” the Welsh captain said. “I was excited to get out there, I felt good.”
Samantha Mewis, who played all but four minutes in the US’ three matches, started for the Courage. Fatigue was a factor for the center midfielder, but not as big a factor as a cut on the bridge of her nose originally, and gruesomely, picked up in the US’ game against Australia. It reopened during the first half on Saturday, adding to the aches and pains of playing four games in little more than a week.
“I have felt better in other games but the other thing was my nose was bleeding and I had things stuffed up it so I couldn’t breathe either,” Mewis said. “But this team gives me so much energy so I feel like I actually got better as the game went on energy-wise. This is such a great atmosphere, we love playing here, we love playing for these fans, so it’s been great. I have a lot of recovering to do but it was worth it.”
Four of the five NC players that participated in the Tournament of Nations started for their club, including Debinha, Lynn Williams, and Taylor Smith, who earned her first three caps and two assists in the tournament. Center-back Abby Dahlkemper played every minute of the US games and went the full 90 on Saturday, extending her streak of consecutive minutes played to 4,770, the longest active in the NWSL.
Courage finish chances
For the most part Seattle stayed disciplined and concentrated on slipping Naho Kawasumi or Beverly Yanez in behind North Carolina’s backline, but with Rapinoe’s absence they looked short on creativity. North Carolina capitalized on a spot of poor play out of the back when Lindsay Elston played a ball straight to Makenzy Doniak. The Courage winger immediately struck out for the Reign goal, with Elston sliding over to force her toward the endline. Doniak got a half-step on her and slid a great ball to Williams at the top of the box. The 2016 Golden Boot winner cut inside her defender and shot low and hard and Haley Kopmeyer, perhaps shielded by her defense, got low to palm the shot but couldn’t prevent it from rolling behind her into the net.
The Courage squandered a great chance at an insurance goal in the 53rd minute. Doniak made a long run into the box and received the ball with room to shoot, but her first touch stalled beneath her and her compensatory shot sailed over the bar.
Seattle came close to equalizing twice through the play of second-half substitute Katie Johnson. In the 74th minute the striker contorted herself to twist a header on frame, but North Carolina keeper Katelyn Rowland gobbled it up at the near post. A minute later Johnson bodied Dahlkemper off the ball and crossed it to Fishlock who skied her effort.
The win pulls the Courage back into first place one point ahead of the Chicago Red Stars. Rest and recovery will be the upcoming week’s theme as the Courage are facing another full slate. NWSL action beckons again on Thursday with a make-up game against FC Kansas City and a cross-country trip to Seattle on Sunday for a chaser.
“We’ve got a tough stretch in front of us and we know that. We’re going to go back tomorrow and set up for Kansas City and this one’s in the books,” head coach Paul Riley said. “We’ve beat them [Seattle] twice at home which is always nice to get the points and they’re coming up pretty quick next weekend as well.”
Seattle host the Courage at 9 pm ET on Sunday, August 13.