NWSL-leading Courage M*A*S*H* Boston Breakers 3-1
Posted June 17
Although the North Carolina Courage and Boston Breakers haven’t played in a fortnight, the teams that met Saturday at WakeMed Soccer Park resembled M*A*S*H units. The intervening FIFA international break saw four of their players injured while training with their respective national teams. North Carolina’s Lynn Williams and Boston’s Rose Lavelle were hurt with the U.S. Women’s National Team, while Sabrina D’Angelo of the Courage and the Breakers’ Allysha Chapman were grounded while in camp with their Canadian counterparts.
Add Jessica McDonald among the Courage casualties, and the NWSL’s top scoring team was missing their dynamic striker duo. Oh nevermind … A first-half brace by Kristen Hamilton, making her first start since 2015, paced the Courage to a tidy 3-1 victory over the Breakers.
Courage manager Paul Riley said a fast offensive start was his hope against the Breakers.
“The main thing for us was the first 20 minutes,” Riley said. “[Boston has] conceded two goals in the first 10 minutes their previous two games. We talked about it a lot the past two weeks, making sure we got off to a good start. And we got off to a great start.”
Faster than a Dan Rather sign off, Courage was the word as the depleted side picked up the team’s high-scoring ways. In just the 3rd minute, Sam Mewis intercepted a Megan Oyster outlet, then split the Breakers’ defenders with a through ball to Hamilton, who calmly slipped her shot past Breakers keeper Abby Smith.
“They had a lot of gaps in their back line, so it was really easy to roll off and pull off and find those spaces,” Hamilton said. “I know how Sam plays in training and loves those little through balls, so I just pulled off the shoulder and opened up. I was in 1-v-1 with the keeper and just slotted it to the side we practice every day at training.”
Hamilton’s brace came 10 minutes hence. Off a Courage corner, Abby Erceg’s header bounced off the left post, whereupon Ashley Hatch’s follow-up met McCall Zerboni’s face, sending the sphere back across goal to an unmarked Hamilton, who converted the sitter for a 2-0 advantage.
With the kickoff temperature below 82 degrees Fahrenheit, the match avoided the newly mandated hydration breaks the NWSL instituted this week. However, the Courage remained red hot with their third goal in the 38th minute. Makenzy Doniak fed a ball ahead to Ashley Hatch that was intercepted by an out-rushing Smith. Hatch played the ricochet back to Doniak, who returned the favor as Smith scampered back to goal. With the keeper off her line, Hatch launched a left-footer that sailed into net for the 3-0 halftime lead.
“I turned around and saw [Doniak] coming,” Hatch said. “I tried to set it up for her to take a shot. It kind of got deflected and I knew the keeper was out, so I just turned until I hit it and it went in.”
That’s all the Courage would need, even though the Breakers got a goal back in the 73rd minute when Adriana Leon’s cross off the right wing formed a parabola that somehow found the inside of the far netting for Leon’s team-leading fourth goal.
Riley says the way his team held fast and killed off the game was itself a sign of progress.
“A year go, we would have been in the match at 3-1,” Riley said. “We would have given up another [goal] and we would have been sweating a little bit. That’s how much the team has matured over the last 12 months.”
The Courage had a total of seven players away on international duty the past two weeks, which when combined with other injures made for diminished training sessions and six-a-side scrimmages. But according to Riley, it also benefited players like Hamilton, Doniak, and Taylor Smith with added reps.
“[Hamilton's] been so professional the past two or three months, just biding her time and not once looking like she’s disinterested,” Riley said. “She’s a really great professional.”
Even though Hamilton wasn’t officially informed until yesterday that she would be in the starting XI tonight, she had an inkling of that possibility when Lynn Williams returned from national team camp with a high ankle sprain.
“It’s been a long two years, and I’ve had to be patient and finally got my chance,” Hamilton said.
Although Riley was pleased with his team’s fast start tonight, he admits being taken aback by the offensive output given a variety of factors.
“We thought it would be a tight game, maybe 1-nil with a set piece or something like that,” Riley said. “We weren’t sure how those two [Hamilton and Hatch] would connect. We have a lot of tired legs, too; Debinha and Sam [Mewis] have been traveling. We were a little worried about the temperatures and what it would take out of us.”
The Courage (7-3-0, 21 pts.) widen their lead atop the NWSL table to four points over the Chicago Red Stars. Riley said Williams’ midweek MRI came back negative, and he hopes she will be ready when North Carolina pays a visit to Boston next weekend. McDonald’s return is more likely when the Courage returns to WakeMed Soccer Park on Saturday, July 1 to host Sky Blue FC.
In the meantime, a lot of NWSL teams have a lot of healing to do.
“When you have [international] friendlies, it’s good to use everybody,” Riley said. “But the players have come back very, very tired. Sam [Mewis] played 118 minutes. I think they need a break. We took it easy on Sam [after she returned]; I’m going to give her an extra day off this week, as well. She wants to play every minute; she doesn’t want to let the team down.
“I want to protect all the players, Rose Lavelle, too. The better Rose Lavelle is, the better Boston is. The better Boston is, the better we have to be. The better we have to be, the better we get. I want everybody to have their best players playing. The break did not help a lot of teams in this league, that’s for sure.”
NC: Rowland, Erceg, Dahlkemper, Hinkle, Doniak (Witteman, 69’), T. Smith, Zerboni, Mewis, Debinha (Speck, 81’), Hamilton (Ochs, 87’), Hatch
BOS: A. Smith, King, Oyster, Westphal, Elby, Salem (Da Costa, 68’), Andrews, White, Haavi (Purce, 57’), Dowie, Leon (Onumonu, 82’)
NC: Hamilton, 3’ (Mewis); Hamilton, 13’; Hatch, 38’ (Doniak)
BOS: Leon, 73’ (Dowie)
BOS: R. White, 80’