The North Carolina Courage are in first-place again, and five points clear of the nearest team after a 2-1 win over the Seattle Reign FC Sunday night. The Courage’s victory concluded a three-games-in-eight-days run with a full nine points taken from all games. The result dealt the Reign, who played without Megan Rapinoe, out recovering from knee surgery, and Jess Fishlock, their first home loss in 2017 and ended their 16-game unbeaten streak at Memorial Stadium.
Even First Half
Samantha Mewis put the Courage ahead with a wonderful display of power and finesse. The play began with a pass up the line by Jaelene Hinkle. Jess McDonald made the run outside to receive the ball and rounded on her defender, pushing her back and inside Seattle’s penalty box. She played a hard pass to the top of the 18 just behind Lynn Williams, who reached back to knock the ball into Sam Mewis’ path. Mewis took a half-step to gather herself before smacking a perfect volley for the game’s opening goal.
Seattle grabbed the equalizing goal just five minutes before halftime. After receiving the ball at midfield, Merritt Mathias powered up the right flank past Ashley Hatch and laid off a simple ball to Lindsay Elston on the sideline. Elston drilled a first-time cross that flew over the Courage back line and dropped perfectly at the top of the six-yard box, where an onrushing Rumi Utsugi arrived to bury it with a left-footed diving volley.
Rowland keeps Courage alive in second half
North Carolina’s most important player of the second half was goalkeeper Katelyn Rowland, who made two saves within five minutes to keep her team in the game. In the 65th minute, Rowland came bravely off her line to block a shot by Naho Kawasumi, and read the play well again three minutes later when she repelled a cross that deflected off Beverly Yanez at the last second.
Rowland’s confident handling kept the Courage alive for a game-winner against the run of play in the 74th minute. Hatch sent in a long throw-in that Mewis flicked back into the Seattle defense. Kristen McNabb had to react quickly and muffed the clearance, and for the second time that evening a rebound sat up perfectly for Sam Mewis, who made no mistake in bending the loose ball past a helpless Haley Kopmeyer.
Plenty of good for Seattle
Seattle pieced together several half chances in the final fifteen minutes, but they never recovered their earlier rhythm. The loss, Seattle’s first defeat at home in 2017, drops the Reign two points behind the Orlando Pride and out of playoff position. With a match scheduled for Wednesday, August 16th, they’ll have a quick turnaround, but unfortunately the schedule points them due east to Toyota Park, Illinois, and the third-place Chicago Red Stars, another NWSL side with a near-impregnable home record.
There are plenty of positives the Reign can take from Sunday’s match. Despite missing their top goalscorer, Seattle created a lot of chances. Katie Johnson’s high press and speed were threatening up top, and her rotation with Kawasumi, Elston, Yanez, and Mathias caused the Courage backline plenty of problems.
After an exhausting eight-day schedule the Courage don’t play again until Saturday, when they host the Washington Spirit at 3:30 pm, a game that will be televised live on Lifetime.