Neil Morris

NC Courage deposes Seattle Reign to remain atop NWSL

Posted July 9

— The Seattle NWSL club spells its moniker “Reign.” But the meteorological homonym was the operative force at WakeMed Soccer Park tonight, as the perennial, nay weekly presence of summertime storms delayed the start of the match between the North Carolina Courage and Seattle Reign by over two hours. If anything, the later kickoff and accompanying dip in temperature fed the Courage’s high-press defense and high-octane attack.

Despite facing a surging Seattle squad, unbeaten in their previous four matches and with only one loss in their last nine games, the Courage earned their seventh shutout victory this year, 2-0, over Megan Rapinoe and the Reign.

“When you create 15 or 16 chances, that’s a good night,” said Courage manager Paul Riley. “We only scored two, but defensively we were very good.”

Lynn Williams returned to the North Carolina starting XI for the first time since June 3, and Jaelene Hinkle was back at fullback after missing last weekend’s loss to Sky Blue FC. Riley also altered his formation to a 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield, partly designed to shift Debinha back to her more natural number 10 position.

“I thought the midfield was fantastic,” Riley said. “Obviously, we tweaked it a little bit, putting Debinha back into the #10, and Debinha came alive; I think she touched the ball more before halftime tonight than she had the whole of last week. Mac Doniak had probably her best game of the season. And hats off to Taylor Smith: she did a great job on [Megan] Rapinoe. From our game plan point of view, it went really well.”

In 33th minute, McCall Zerboni drove along the port portion of the penalty area before delivering a cross that deflected off the heels of Reign captain Lauren Barnes. The ball bounded to an open Ashley Hatch, who calmly converted for the 1-0 Courage lead and her fourth goal in five starts this rookie season.

Despite being outshot 17-7 in the opening stanza, the Reign’s best chance came in the waning seconds of the half when Rapinoe charged Courage goalkeeper Katelyn Rowland from over 25 yards away, then dispossessed the petrified keeper. Staring down an utterly empty net, Rapinoe pushed her shot wide right of the post to preserve North Carolina’s halftime advantage.

“Just missed it,” Rapinoe said sheepishly. “She’s [Rowland] lucky; she got real cute on it. I think she tried to dance around a little bit, and you shouldn’t really do that. She saw me coming from about three days away. I won’t miss the next one, probably. I probably just rushed it a little bit; I didn’t know if someone was coming down on me.”

With the Reign still lurking, a much-needed insurance goal came for the Courage in the 81st minute. Jessica McDonald’s header off a corner service landed in the goal mouth, then squibbed over to Zerboni, who poked in the sitter for the final 2-0 margin.

“My job was really easy, honestly,” Zerboni said. “We have some monsters in there on corner kicks who can win balls, and my job was just to anticipate and get on the second ball. It was a great win by either Jess McDonald or Kiwi [Abby Erceg], and I get to pick up the scraps.”

It was a deserved goal for Zerboni, who gamed both ends of the field throughout the match.

“I was definitely sniffing one out,” Zerboni said about scoring a goal tonight. “I think my role today was a little bit more attacking and being in the final third creating chances. The more and more I got some chances at goal, the more and more I could smell one.”

North Carolina and Seattle face each other two more times in early August, rematches Rapinoe was already contemplating after tonight’s loss.

“Obviously they’re the number one team and reigning champions for a reason,” Rapinoe said. “They’re very difficult to play against. We have to bring the fight first. I thought we were in [the game] for parts of the match and did some things we wanted to, but just not enough against a team like this.”

The Courage (9-4-0, 27 pts.) pushes their lead atop the NWSL table back to three points over the Chicago Red Stars. North Carolina plays their next three matches on the road, beginning next weekend at the Portland Thorns and July 22 at FC Kansas City. The Courage next graces Sahlen’s Stadium in Cary on August 5 for the second match against Seattle.

“It was a good win [tonight] because we’ve had home cooking, now we’re on the road a little bit,” Riley said. “It was important that we got three points tonight before we went on the road.”

“From minute one, we had a grip on the game,” Zerboni said. “Our forwards were making great runs and creating a lot of chances, and I think we put their team on their back heels from the beginning.”

BOX SCORE
LINEUPS
NC:
Rowland, Erceg, Dahlkemper, T. Smith (Ochs, 79’), Hinkle, Doniak (Witteman, 88’), Mewis, Zerboni, Debinha, Hatch, L. Williams (McDonald, 66’)
SEA: Kopmeyer, Barnes, Mathias (K. Johnson, 83’), Pickett, Stott, McNabb, Nairn (Yanez, 78’), Utsugi, Elston, Kawasumi (Dallstream, 69’), Rapinoe

GOALS
NC:
Hatch, 33’; Zerboni, 81’
SEA: ---

CAUTIONS
NC:
Hatch, 75’
SEA: McNabb, 71’

EJECTIONS
NC:
---
SEA: ---

ATTENDANCE: 3,565

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