Neil Morris

The audacity of hope: Courage grinds out 1-0 win versus Reign

Posted August 5
Updated August 6

— With this year’s arrival of the North Carolina Courage, WakeMed Soccer Park is seemingly becoming a quasi-destination spot for ex-United States national team footballers. In June, Chapel Hill resident Heather O’Reilly made her way atop the capo stand in front of the Courage supporters section. Saturday, former national team goalkeeper, erstwhile iconoclast, and new North Carolina denizen Hope Solo was found floating around the west grandstands to watch her old NWSL team, the Seattle Reign, visit the Courage.

Meanwhile, the tongues wagging over the five Courage players who participated in the recent Tournament of Nations — including Sam Mewis, Abby Dahlkemper, Taylor Smith, and Lynn Williams with the U.S. national team — segued into tongues dragging as those four Americans made the starting lineup just two days after fielding substantial minutes against Japan in Los Angeles. No matter all that, the Courage got their first-half goal, then ground out a 1-0 win over an under-womaned Reign squad.

While Megan Rapinoe and Japanese international Rumi Utsugi didn’t make the trip to Cary with Seattle, Mewis, Dahlkemper, Smith and Williams, who just arrived back in the Triangle Friday evening, made the XI Saturday. Only Brazilian national teamer Debinha sat, spelled by Kristen Hamilton after her reported (per Courage gaffer Paul Riley) fortnight of impressive training.

Hope Solo at NC Courage vs. Seatle Reign

“I’ve been in touch with them completely,” Riley said. “We sent them video to look at (Friday), and we sent them the scouting report so they could look it on the flight back. I spoke with them when they arrived back, and spoke with them this morning and this afternoon, just to make sure. I’m not going to risk anybody’s health. Sammy (Mewis) was in the locker room screaming, she was just happy to be back.”

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Mewis’ national team experience caught up to her quickly, and by that I mean she suffered a bloody nose in the 17th minute that recalled her gushing epistaxis against Australia a week ago. Mewis was quickly returned to the field Saturday after after donning some gauze and a clean jersey.

“Nothing is broken or anything,” Mewis said. “I had a cut at first, then as soon as the ball hit me in the nose I felt it kind of move, and I was like, ‘Oh, it’s going to bleed again.’ But it wasn’t that bad.”

The lone goal came in the 32nd minute. Makenzy Doniak intercepted an errant Lindsay Elston pass, then shed Elston as she tried to atone for her error. Doniak centered a rolling cross that Hamilton obligingly ignored, aware that the NWSL’s 2016 Golden Boot winner was behind her, cutting across the area. Lynn Williams took a touch before skipping a shot with enough pace that it deflected off Reign goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer’s outstretched elbow before dribbling across the goal line. It’s Williams’ fourth goal this year, tying Ashley Hatch for the team lead.

That was it, as Seattle (sans Rapinoe and Utsugi) never mustered much of an attack.

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“We haven’t scored a lot of goals this year, but we’ve been stingy in the back,” Riley said. “We didn’t give (Seattle) a lot of chances, to be honest about it. All in all, with our players coming back from the west coast, it was a really good performance.”

About that … It was a curious decision to play Mewis, Dahlkemper, Smith and Williams, not just because of their national team duties but also since the Courage are on the front end of three games over eight days. Riley admitted he was worried about Dahlkemper and Smith; Mewis admitted her legs were heavier than usual Saturday.

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But getting three points in front of the second-largest Courage crowd this year was paramount.

“A big crowd came (out),” Riley said. “They wanted to see Sam Mewis play. They want to see Lynn Williams play. They want to see Debinha play. They want to see these players play. If we were away from home, it might have been different. But we were home, and they wanted to play.”

“This team comes first, and I think we just have the mentality that we’ve been with this team from the beginning and we want to play and be here for (our teammates),” Smith said. “We know how hard they worked while we were away, and we didn’t want to take anything away from them. We’re a team, and we wanted to get this win together.”

“I didn’t have to talk (Riley) into it,” Mewis said when asked about finding her way into the XI. “I didn’t want to let the team down in any way. I was tired, but all of us did everything we could to be ready. I’m glad we were all healthy enough to play, and anytime I get a chance to play for this team I’m going to do it.”

The Courage (10-5-0, 30 pts.) reclaim their place atop the NWSL table and now hit the slipstream for a makeup match at FC Kansas City this Thursday, then visit Seattle next Sunday for their third tilt against the Reign. North Carolina next darkens the Sahlen’s Stadium pitch on Saturday, August 19 to host the Washington Spirit. Maybe another soccer celebrity will show up in the grandstands. The hopefuls of today will be on the field.

BOX SCORE

LINEUPS

NC: Rowland, Hinkle, Dahlkemper, Erceg, T. Smith, Mewis, Zerboni, Doniak (McDonald, 62’), Hamilton (Witteman, 90’), Hatch (Debinha 87’), L. Williams
SEA: Kopmeyer, Barnes, Corsie, Stott, Mathias (McNabb, 78’), Nairn (Reed, 78’), Elston, Fishlock, Dallstream (K. Johnson, 63’), Yanez, Kawasumi

GOALS

NC: L. Williams, 32’ (Doniak)
SEA: ---

CAUTIONS

NC: ---
SEA: Stott, 24’; Barnes, 86’

EJECTIONS

NC: ---
SEA: ---

ATTENDANCE: 5,249

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