Courage Put on Dominant Display in the Final Home Match of the Season and Secure an Important Win in the Playoff Race
By Jaden Dakwa – LA Soccer Press
North Carolina Courage midfielder Debinha produced a stunning hat-trick to hand the Courage a 3-0 victory over NJ/NY Gotham on Saturday night at WakeMed Soccer Park.
The Brazilian international nearly opened the scoring in the 13th minute when she cut inside and fired a shot that Gotham defender Estelle Johnson deflected to produce a corner for the Courage.
Debinha created a mesmerizing piece of play in the 16th minute when pulled off a nutmeg pass which led to a clever one-two between her and Carson Pickett. Debinha was able to get in the box and strike an effort on goal. Gotham goalkeeper Michelle Betos was able to get her fingertips to the ball and the ball ended up nicking off the far post.
In the 27th minute, Carson Pickett was able to play a magnificent through ball down the left hand side into the final third for Debinha. Debinha was able to dribble past Betos and tuck the ball into an empty net from a tight angle. The goal marked Debinha’s tenth goal of the NWSL season and gave the Courage a 1-0 lead.
Debinha doubled the Courage’s advantage in the 34th minute after she hit a one-time volley from a pinpoint cross sent in from right back Ryan Williams. Betos was able to get a hand to the shot, but she wasn’t able to redirect the shot from goal.
Courage forward Tess Boade was able to play a lofted cross into the box in the 38th minute and Diana Ordoñez was nearly able to convert the delivery into a goal from close range. The ball looped over the Gotham defense and her effort ended up striking the post.
The Courage were able to continue their attacking dominance in the beginning of the second half. Carson Pickett hit a curling one-time shot in the 46th minute that forced Betos into a quick reaction save to tip the ball over the crossbar.
Gotham forward Midge Purce pulled off a great attacking run in the 49th minute and she cut inside to strike an effort on goal. Her effort ended up being deflected by Courage defender Ryan Williams.
Debinha was able to strike a low curling effort on goal in the 52nd minute and Betos made a rather routine save after she quickly dropped to the pitch to collect the ball.
In the 62nd minute, Debinha was able to whip a curling cross behind the Gotham defense. Fuka Nagano was able to get on the end of the cross and head the ball low towards the net. Betos made a quick reaction kick save to force a corner.
Gotham midfielder Kristie Mewis was able to hit an accurate effort towards the far post in the 64th minute and Courage goalkeeper Casey Murphy was forced into a leaping reaction save that she brilliantly executed led to a corner for Gotham.
Debinha had a brilliant chance in the 66th minute when she was played into the box from a pass sent in by Carson Pickett. Debinha was left through on goal, but her effort on goal sailed over the bar.
Gotham came close to finding the net in the 71st minute when Ali Krieger hit a low finesse shot that nearly was on target. Krieger’s effort on goal glanced just wide of the near post.
The Courage created a great attacking move when substitute Rikke Madsen played a pass towards Debinha in the 78th minute. Debinha pulled off a dummy to leave the ball for Brianna Pinto. Pinto was able to strike a shot on target that Betos was able to parry.
Debinha sealed her hattrick in the 81st minute when she played through on goal by Tess Boade. Debinha was able to coolly chip the ball over Betos to hand the Courage a three goal advantage.
The win was able to momentarily push the Courage into the last playoff position of 6th place. After the Chicago Red Stars 3-0 loss to Portland Thorns on Sunday, the Courage are able to control their destiny of reaching the playoffs on the final matchday of their season. If the Courage were to win, they would seal their berth for the playoffs. Chicago Red Stars and Angel City FC still have an outside chance of sealing a playoff berth in possible scenarios where the Courage were to tie or lose. Chicago Red Stars and Angel City both sit in 7th place and 8th place respectively.
Courage center back Kaleigh Kurtz believes the team is starting to gain a greater understanding of each other in a new 4-3-3 formation.
“I mean we’ve changed formation a little bit and it fits the personnel that we have a bit better,” Kurtz said. “As you just get through the season it gets easier and easier. You start to gain more confidence in the players around you. Now, we all know how each other are going to play. It has definitely clicked.”
There is credence to Kurtz’s assessment. The Courage put on a dominant display and showed a level of fluidity in a complete team performance. Specifically, the team looked extremely comfortable in possession and when building up play from out the back. The Courage ended the match with 60.1% possession, 542 passes completed, and 175 passes completed in the final third. Abby Erceg and Kaleigh Kurtz ended the match with 92.5% and 92.2% passing accuracy respectively.
That level of comfort on the ball from the Courage’s two center backs also seemed to be reflected in the play of the outside backs as well.
Carson Pickett both produced pinpoint assists for Debinha and seemed to display a level of composure on the ball as well. Take a look at their combined attacking stats for the match.
Kurtz has noticed a better cohesion in the build-up from the back since the start of the season.
“With the formation change we have been able to build out from the left hand side, but also out on the right hand side,” Kurtz said. “We’re able to progress through the midfield as well as through the outside backs and the center backs. It’s just been a complete team effort of being able to go down both sides.”
Courage captain Abby Erceg talked about the rotation of the squad and the culture of team having players fill in roles.
“I think that’s just always kind of been the way that the Courage works,” Erceg said. We’ve tried really hard to create a culture where players feel comfortable being able to step in. Regardless, if they’ve played one game. Regardless, if they are playing for five minutes or ten minutes. We want players to come in and know their job. I think the girls that are now getting a lot of playtime is well deserved, they spend a lot of time putting the effort in.”
Courage head coach Sean Nahas was left impressed with the performance of the team and believes it was a fitting way to play their last home match of the season.
“I thought it was our best performance of the year,” Nahas said. “I thought it was the most complete performance that we’ve had. Just top to bottom, the decisions, the spaces that we took up, the patience in possession, and the opportunities to break lines to go at players. I felt like we were relentless. I thought our fitness levels were fantastic. It’s a great way to end the season at home. At least for the temporary time, this pushed across the playoff line. Three weeks ago, who would’ve said that?”
The Courage will play their final match of the season against San Diego Wave in San Diego, California on Friday, September 30th at 10PM PT / 7PM ET.
Dakwa holds a BS in Journalism from Elon University. He writes about North Carolina professional soccer for L.A. Soccer Press. Follow him at @JDakwa on Twitter.