The North Carolina Courage remain undefeated thanks to a late Jess McDonald goal
North Carolina forward Jess McDonald scored the game-winning goal in the 1-0 win over Seattle Reign FC. | Photo: @TheNCCourage

The North Carolina Courage (4W-0D-0L) are the last undefeated team in the National Women's Soccer League for the second year in a row after slipping past Seattle Reign FC (2W-0D-1L) on Wednesday night. The final scoreline of 1-0 does not accurately reflect the number of imminent scoring opportunities created by the Courage that were thwarted by Reign goalkeeper Michelle Betos and the woodwork. Seattle generated a few scoring chances of their own, but none were as clear-cut as the six one-vs-one opportunities that Courage forwards Jess McDonald and Lynn Williams had on the night. It took until the 70th minute for one of those opportunities to finally find the back of the net when McDonald collected a looping pass over the defense from forward Kristen Hamilton and beat the keeper. The Courage defense was surprisingly without defender Abby Dahlkemper, whose record streak of 5,850 consecutive minutes played came to an end after 65 matches. 

The Courage remain perfect

The game started out in an extremely unsettled fashion. The referee had to blow his whistle five times in the first 13 minutes of the match, and after the fifth foul, a yellow card was issued to Hamilton. After the warning play settled down considerably, but neither team was able to make much of their possession. The Reign were forced to make an early substitution when Christen Westphal was injured and made way for defender Lauren Barnes. Play proceeded up and down the pitch without either team having control of the game, but the Reign had their best shot of the match when midfielder Jess Fishlock struck the ball hard from about 25 yards out. The ball looked like it was curling towards the upper-right corner of the goal, but it was headed away by Courage defender Abby Erceg for a corner.

Jess McDonald celebrates after scoring the go-ahead goal for the second consecutive home match. | Photo: @ReignFC
Jess McDonald celebrates after scoring the go-ahead goal for the second consecutive home match. | Photo: @ReignFC

The second half was all Courage, but it seemed like the game might be heading for a nil-nil draw as North Carolina failed to capitalize on their opportunities. Just after the half, Lynn Williams put a shot wide of the net when she was faced up against the goalkeeper. In the 65th minute, McDonald had another open run at the keeper, but Betos stuck out her left foot and deflected the shot off the left post. In the 70th minute, McDonald had a second opportunity to take on Betos, and this time she put the ball on the right side of the keeper and into the net. Seattle had a few decent chances during the remaining minutes, but none of their shots challenged Courage netminder Sabrina D'Angelo, who earned her third shutout in four matches. It was clear that the Reign were exhausted by the end of the second half after playing in New Jersey on Sunday.

The teams looking forward

North Carolina will play again on Saturday afternoon against the Utah Royals FC at home. They are one of two teams, the other being the Chicago Red Stars, that will have three matches in seven days. The Courage will try to remain perfect on the season when they go up against the sixth-place Royals. After two matches already this week, head coach Paul Riley will consider changing up the lineup to prevent fatigue amongst his players.

The Reign will welcome their return to Seattle and a week off to rest their legs and improve their health. The bye week couldn't be coming at a better time for them with midfielder Megan Rapinoe and defender Westphal injured. They will also get back their international players from Japan and Australia during the break, so they will hopefully come back on April 28th in Orlando at full strength.