Soccer

Family affair: Courage down Dash, 1-0, to earn home playoff game

Posted September 9

Sam Mewis (FED-USA) (5) of NC Courage.  The NC Courage host the 2016 Supporters Shield winners, the Portland Thorns, on Saturday, April 22 for the team's inaugural home opener at newly named Sahlen's Stadium and WakeMed Soccer Park.  NC Courage defeat the Portland Thorns 1 to 0.

Photo by:  Suzie Wolf

— Sam Mewis and her older sibling, Kristie Mewis, have faced off many times, on and off the soccer pitch, since growing up in Hanson, Mass., including now in the NWSL. They’ve played alongside each other for the U.S. Women’s National Team. But fate was being quite fickle this year. The Mewises faced off to open the NWSL season when Sam’s North Carolina Courage visited Kristie’s Washington Spirit. But Kristie was held out of the Spirit’s Aug. 19 match in North Carolina because her trade to the Chicago Red Stars would be announced two days later. Then the Red Stars traded Kristie to the Houston Dash four days before the Courage visited Chicago on Sept. 3.

With the end of the 2017 regular season drawing nigh, it was finally a family affair Saturday evening in Cary as the Courage hosted the Dash. Both Mewis sisters were in their respective starting XIs, and their mother Melissa, a cancer survivor, performed the pregame coin toss in conjunction with Breast Cancer Awareness Night.

Familial love soon segued into family feud, however, and Kristin Hamilton’s first-half goal was the difference in a 1-0 Courage victory. The win secures the Courage a home semifinal match in the NWSL playoffs. The semifinal will be played at WakeMed Soccer Park on Sunday, October 8, with the kickoff time and opponent yet to be determined.

“It was a professional performance,” said Courage manager Paul Riley. “We missed a lot of chances early in the game that would have put the game out of reach. [Houston] played a little bit freer; they were out of the playoffs, so for them it was a free game. We looked a little bit nervous, which is unusual for us, especially late in the game when [the Dash] started to push on.”

Relishing the home crowd and autumnal temps, the aggressive Courage grabbed the lead in the 26th minute. Off a throw-in, team captain Abby Erceg flicked a header over to Hamilton, who took a touch before poking the putaway past Dash goalkeeper Jane Campbell for the 1-0 advantage. It is Hamilton’s third goal this season and the first since her shock brace against the Boston Breakers in June 17.

North Carolina outshot Houston 22-8, but the Courage put only six shots on frame and Campbell saved five of those. For all the Courage’s offensive firepower, it’s their defense that has seen them to the top of the league table. The team has now kept three consecutive clean sheets at home and five clean sheets in their last seven home games, winning six of them.

Among Saturday’s positive performers, Riley cited Erceg, the team’s veteran defensive mainstay, as the player of the match.

“[Our defense] is a big improvement from last year, when it was all offense, all offense,” Erceg said. “As long as we scored more goals than we let in, we were fine. One of the biggest area’s we’ve tied up this year is our defense. We’ve had a solid back line all season, so our cohesion is good.”

North Carolina was also playing without McCall Zerboni, who was serving a one-game suspension for yellow card accumulation.

“I was pleased with the work energy without McCall in there,” Riley said. “Obviously, without your main soldier in the midfield—she pulls everyone together. Not having that leadership didn’t help us.”

Mewis, Abby Dahlkemper, Taylor Smith and Lynn Williams will leave tomorrow for call-up to the U.S. national team for their upcoming friendlies against New Zealand. Denise O’Sullivan will also travel to play for the Ireland national team and Debinha will join Brazil. The rest of the Courage squad will enjoy several days off before returning to training in advance of the team’s next match at Sky Blue FC on Sunday, September 24. The Courage still have their sights set on a NWSL regular season title—North Carolina are five points clear of the second-place Portland Thorns with three games remaining for each team.

That said, earning home field advantage for the playoffs was Riley’s principal aim. With that accomplished, his thoughts are already creeping into next month.

“My goal is to get everyone at their best the next two weeks and competitive on the run-in as we get into October.”

There won’t be an October for Kristie Mewis and the Dash. After Saturday’s match, Kristie said that her last month, playing for three teams and being traded twice, has been trying.

“It’s tough—I’m not going to lie and say it’s been easy by any means,” Mewis said. “It’s tough mentally and emotionally to get thrown around everywhere. You just have to realize what’s important. I’m doing something that I love, and I’m fortunate enough to play in this league. So I just have to keep pushing forward. I can’t dwell on it. I can’t see it as something bad; I can’t feel sorry for myself.

“I also want to become a player who no one wants to let go of. It’s hard to not think about that part … but I want to become a player that teams don’t want to give up.

Given Kristie Mewis’ recent roller coaster, Saturday’s ad hoc family reunion—particularly her mom’s midfield recognition—carried added significance.

“It’s actually been really emotional, just because I feel like us four [the Mewis sisters and their parents] aren’t together a lot—we just don’t get together enough, I think,” Mewis said. “But it was really, really special to share that moment with my mom and my family. I actually got a little emotional on the field, and do did Sam.”


BOX SCORE

LINEUPS

NC: Rowland, Hinkle, Erceg, Dahlkemper, T. Smith, Mewis, O’Sullivan (Ochs, 88’), Hamilton, Hatch (Debinha, 78’), McDonald (Doniak, 68’), L. Williams

HOU: Campbell, Poliana, Brooks, Van Wyk, Levin, Roccaro, K. Mewis (Privett, 84’), Andressinha, Daly (Cox, 90’), Hagen (Beckie, 68’), Prince

GOALS

NC: Hamilton, 26’ (Erceg)

HOU: ---

CAUTIONS

NC: Dahlkemper, 63’

HOU: Roccaro, 64’; Van Wyk, 90 + 5’

EJECTIONS

NC: ---

HOU: ---

ATTENDANCE: 4,702

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