Neil Morris

NC Courage eclipses Washington Spirit, 2-0

Posted August 19

— Ancient cultures equated the sun with the divine, and earthbound kings adopted symbols of the sun to connote power. It’s why those kings feared eclipses, believing they could portend the end times of their reign, à la the breaking of the sixth seal in the Book of Revelations.

Saturday afternoon at a sunbaked WakeMed Soccer Park, the visiting Washington Spirit sought to blot out the bright radiance of the NWSL-leading North Carolina Courage, who came in sitting five points atop the league table. Alas, like Icarus, the Spirit flew too close to the sun, as a blazing first half quickly melted away in the summertime humidity, eventually collapsing into a 2-0 Courage victory.

The first 45 minutes were a metaphorical aphelion, with both sides rotating around each other but remaining far from the photosphere of goal. The Courage has allowed the fewest goals (14) in the NWSL this year, so the Spirit’s scoreless stanza wasn’t a surprise. On the other hand, Washington’s 30 goals surrendered coming into Saturday was second-most in the league, so the Courage’s fallow first half was more a consequence of impatient possession and out-of-sync distribution.

In many way, that first half—and each team’s reaction to it—told the tale of the match. Courage manager Paul Riley admitted that his frustration boiled over in the locker room at halftime.

“This is the first time all season I’ve gotten into them, to be honest,” Riley said. “I got into Sam [Mewis], I got into McCall [Zerboni], I got into Lynn [Williams], [Ashley] Hatch and [Kristin] Hamilton up front, which I haven’t had to do all season. I thought it was just the work ethic in the first half. We started well the first ten minutes, then we just dialed it down and stopped working and stopped closing.”

Zerboni, appearing in her one-hundredth NWSL game, was typically more direct.

“That first half we were in shambles,” Zerboni said. “We weren’t focusing, we weren’t working together, we weren’t sticking to the game plan. Obviously, the conditions were really difficult; I think we let that get the better of us mentally. Once we got our booties handed to us at halftime, then it was like we need to get it together, and I was really proud of the reaction the team had.”

Sensing the necessity to conjure a solar flare before the sweltering troposphere sapped everyone’s energy, the Courage grabbed the elusive lead to open the second half. A (finally) calm buildup led to Hamilton airing a cross that clipped off Spirit halftime sub Alysa Kleiner before landing at the feet of Ashley Hatch. Hatch took a touch, then slotted her sure shot past Washington goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé for the 1-0 advantage. It’s Hatch’s fifth goal, re-tying her with Lynn Williams for the team lead.

“[Kristin] had a great run down the line—I trust her skills and knew it was going to come across,” Hatch said. “I decided to just stay in the box and trust her skills. She played it across; it was a nice driven ball. The defender made a mistake, and I just capitalized on it.”

The ignominious coup de grâce took place in the 84th minute. Washington’s Cali Farquharson headed a Courage corner off the face of teammate Kassey Kallman, redirecting the globe into net for the final 2-0 tally.

Washington (4-10-4, 16 pts.) remains mired with the Boston Breakers at the bottom of the league standings. After the match, Spirit manager Jim Gabarra was as indignant about his team’s positive first half as he was their inability to capitalize on opportunities.

“The first 48 minutes we dominated them,” Gabarra said. “They did nothing, they had nothing. Zero, zip, not even a threat. I mean, one long throw-in and no chances. Yeah, we’ve gotta have, like, an exorcism or something.

“We press in an organized way, and we want to win the ball in their half and create scoring chances,” Gabarra continued. “If we can do a better job of executing and taking advantage of those opportunities, then we’ll start winning games.”

The Courage (13-5-0, 39 pts.) push seven points clear of the second-place Portland Thorns with both teams now even at 18 games played. That said, the Courage face the umbra of three consecutive road games over seven days time, beginning next Sunday at the Houston Dynamo. Once it completes that crucible, the Courage finishes their regular season with two of their final three matches in Cary.

“Habits are habits in sports," Zerboni said. "I thought we had a good week of training, but a game environment is different. You just don’t know how you’re going to be until you get out there. I think we do have some things we need to improve on. We’re still getting results, thankfully. That’s the strength of our team that we always find a way to win, and that’s what makes us so dangerous, even when we’re not on our best day.”

BOX SCORE

LINEUPS
NC:
Rowland, Hinkle, Erceg, Dahlkemper, Smith, Mewis, Zerboni, O'Sullivan (Debinha, 80’), Hamilton (Doniak, 89’), Hatch (McDonald, 67’), L. Williams
WAS: Labbé, Dydasco, Zadorsky, Kallman, E. Johnson (Kleiner, 46’), Banini (Ship, 87’, Huster, Howard, Solaun (Farquharson, 67’), C. Williams, Pugh

GOALS
NC:
Hatch, 46’ (Hamilton); Kallman, 84’ (OG)
WAS: ---

CAUTIONS
DC: Dahlkemper, 90’
WAS: Dydasco, 55’; Farquharson, 82’

EJECTIONS
NC: ---
WAS: ---

ATTENDANCE: 3,530

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