Mewis scores in second straight match
The first major scoring opportunity from either side came in the 21st minute. USWNT midfielder Samantha Mewis slipped a pass into the box to an unmarked Kristen Hamilton. The recent USWNT debutante sent her shot from the corner of the six-yard box over the crossbar.
Six minutes after that, the Courage came close to finding the back of the net again. There was a big scramble in front of Utah's goal, and striker Jessica McDonald almost headed the ball into the goal. The Courage argued there was a handball.
Mewis scored her first goal for the Courage this season on Tuesday by converting a penalty kick. She scored the game-winner off a penalty kick again today in the 30th minute. Hamilton drew a foul from USWNT defender Becky Sauerbrunn in the box. Mewis placed her attempt into the bottom left corner. Utah goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart dove to the right direction but was not quick enough to stop the kick.
North Carolina carried their one-goal lead into the locker room.
Barnhart mistake gifts Hinkle goal
Sauerbrunn is not known to be a goal-scorer, but she did recently score a game-winning header for the Royals. In the 52nd minute, she nearly scored an equalizing header off a corner kick from fellow USWNT teammate Christen Press, but Courage goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe was in the perfect position to prevent that.
Barnhart is widely regarded as the best goalkeeper in NWSL history because of her consistent performances over the years. But in the 65th minute of this match, she made an unfortunate mistake. North Carolina left back Jaelene Hinkle crossed the ball toward the goal. Barnhart misjudged the cross and allowed it to slip through her hands and into the net.
Five minutes later, Brazilian international Debinha joined in on the scoring fun for the Courage. She calmly slotted the ball into the net from the center of the box to tack on the Courage's third and final goal of the night.
The Royals hustled to find at least one goal in the last few minutes of the match but were not successful.
For the third straight year, North Carolina finish the regular season at the top of the table. If they win their semifinal match, they will have a chance to defend their title on their home field.
The North Carolina Courage (14-4-4) will play their penultimate regular season match of this season in the nation's capital next Saturday. The Utah Royals FC (9-8-4) still have a fair shot at making the playoffs and have a crucial match midweek against the Reign FC that was rescheduled.