Zions Bank Stadium, Utah
Referee: Lukasz Spala
AR1: Deleana Quan
AR2: Jennifer Garner
4th: Katja Koroleva
The North Carolina Courage built on their impressive start by claiming another impressive scalp, in an enthralling encounter. Two goals from Lynn Williams, which took her total for the tournament to three, sealed an impressive win for Paul Riley’s team. Whilst not much separated the two teams during a full-throttled first half, the North Carolina Courage was able to take control in the second half.
Both teams have one game under their belts, and it was noticeable. Both teams zipped the ball around with the enthusiasm and panache we have all come to expect from these two squads. The first ten minutes were indicative of what was to come.
The first real opening of the game came on as Washington’s talismanic playmaker, Rose Lavelle, stung the palms for Stephannie Labbé in the Courage goal in the 3rd minute. Lavelle’s shot from the left edge of the penalty area was well dealt with by the Canadian stopper. A few minutes later and the Courage almost went ahead, with Debinha’s curling effort rebounding off the upright and away to safety.
The Courage had another chance to go ahead on 6 minutes, as Jalene Daniel’s cross was just beyond the reach of Lynn Williams The Courage were starting to click into gear before they needlessly conceded possession to Lavell fully 50 yards out. The American attempted a cheeky long-range chip that ended up sailing harmlessly wide. Frenetic stuff.
The Spirit was largely reduced to pot-shots from distance with Tori Huster driving just wide on 30 minutes. The game continued to ebb and flow from end to end. Debinha jinxed her way through a couple of challenges before having her shot well blocked on 35 minutes. Before William’s turn and half volley on 40, went sailing harmlessly over the bar. Cari Roccaro came close to breaking her goal duct with a curling effort that went just over the bar on the stroke of half-time. The first half was robust by its very nature. Whilst it may have lacked in goals, the encounter was no less entertaining.
Lavelle had a quiet half. It was plain to see how the Courage viewed the USWNT international, often doubling up on the Washington no. 10. Lavelle is a cut above many of her teammates. Her soccer IQ is immense, you can see how she is always aware of what is happening on the field. She finds the little pockets of space with consummate ease and oozes class whilst doing so. North Carolina martialled her brilliantly in the first half, and as such were able to nullify her considerable threat.
At the half, North Carolina threw in Crystal Dunn, Sam Mewis and Denise O’Sullivan in place of Rocarro, McKenzie Meehan and Meredith Speck. Paul Riley opting to revert to the midfield 2 that was so successful vs the Thorns. Dunn also provides her own unique threat from the left-hand side. These changes were indicative of the strength in depth that this team has.
Despite these changes, Washington started brightly winning an early corner which was dealt with comfortably by the Courage. North Carolina swiftly broke, almost laying a goal on for Williams. It became clear this game was going to continue in an end to end fashion, the gloves were well and truly off. And that showed on 49 minutes as North Carolina opened the scoring. Lynn Williams did well to win a ball on halfway, before driving at the Spirit defence. The Spirit defenders backed off too much, as Williams drove into the area before cutting in on her left and cracking a low drive in at the near post. 1 nothing to the defending Champions.
The Spirit now had a mountain to climb in the, erm, mountains. They wasted no time in getting back on the offensive, with Lavelle finding Bayley Feist who was only able to drive her shot high and wide. The Spirit’s mountain soon became more, mountainous? I don’t know. I’m running out of mountain-related adjectives. On 60 minutes Brazilian maestro Debinha slalomed her way into the area and chipped a ball back across goal from the right byline, that was coolly turned home by Williams. 0-2 North Carolina, and you got the feeling that might have been game, set and match.
The triple substitution at half-time was arguably what won the game for North Carolina. Whilst there was a lot of hustle and bustle from both teams in the second half, it was the Courage who really turned the screw. Denise O’Sullivan and Samantha Mewis were able to impose themselves on the game more than Ricarro and Speck. And the introduction of Dunn injected more zest into the attack. There were late chances for both teams, but in all honesty, there was a clear winner in the second 45. The Courage are starting to find their feet, and have won their opening two games without playing at their best. That’s a worrying sign for the rest of the NWSL for sure.
Debinha - North Carolina
Was a constant threat. Found the little pockets of space well, and seemed to panic the Spirit defenders whenever she got the ball in dangerous areas. Unlucky not to open the scoring early on, and laid on a lovely assist for Williams to kill the game off.
Bledsoe- 6 – Left exposed somewhat for the second goal, but should have done better with the first.
Huster –7- Didn't do a whole lot wrong, dealt well with North Carolina’s high press.
Scaab – 6 – Struggled with William’s pace at times, solid otherwise.
Nielsen- 6- Didn't do a whole lot wrong, but costly error for the second goal. Failed to track William’s run.
McGrady –7- Linked up well with Bailey, good outlet.
Lavelle- 6- Quiet game, owed more to North Carolina’s excellent defensive work rather than her own play.
Sullivan – 7- Conceded possession carelessly a couple of times early on, but soon grew into the game.
Dougherty Howard- 7- Similarly to Sullivan, was guilty of getting caught out once or twice but soon grew in confidence.
Bailey – 8 –Arguably Washington’s biggest threat. Unlucky not to score with a drilled cross.
Hatch – 6- Hardly got a kick in all fairness. Hustled well.
Feist – 6 – Energetic performance, but didn’t get a whole lot of service as the Spirit were reduced to long-range efforts on goal.
McClure – 6 – Pro debut, looked lively and was perhaps over exuberant when presented with a chance to test the Courage ‘keeper late on.
Jacobs- 6- Acquitted herself well on her pro debut.
Boissiere – 5 – Struggled to impact the game.
Sanchez – 5 – Like Boissiere struggled to get involved.
Dibiasi –6 – Looked lively when she came on but was unable to affect the game.
North Carolina Courage
Labbé- 7 – Not overly worked, but dealt with everything thrown her way.
Merrick – 7- Impressed again, decent outlet. Solid defensively. Managed Bailey well.
Kurtz- 6 – Was never really tested, but lead the line well.
Erceg – 6- Didn't put a foot wrong all evening.
Daniels – 7- Got up and down the pitch well.
Speck – 6 – Struggled to maintain possession early on, but grew into the game.
Rocarro –7 - Appeared a little sharper than Speck, solid half.
Debinha – 9- Constant threat all evening. Lovely assist for the second goal.
Milliet- 6- Solid, if unspectacular display.
Meehan –6- Ran well, but didn’t affect the game too much.
Williams –9 – Ran the line well, two superb finishes. Tough call between her and Debinha for MVP.
Dunn- 7 – Seemed to inject the Courage with fresh pace.
O’Sullivan -8 – Dictated the pace of the game when she came in, and was key in turning the tide for North Carolina.
Mewis – 7 – Linked up very well with O’Sullivan. The Courage were able to dictate the tempo of the game through the two in the second half.
Hamilton – 6 – Came on when the game was all but won, but still looked lively.
Mace – 6 – Came in late in the game. Riley will have been keen not to overstretch Williams.
By Dan Berridge
Photo Credit: Nikki Flores @ Footy Day Photos