Courage Pick Up a Point In a Tense Affair
By Jaden Dakwa – LA Soccer Press
North Carolina Courage surrendered a lead on three different occasions in a thrilling 3-3 draw against the Portland Thorns on Saturday night at WakeMed Soccer Park. The Courage played in front of 7,070 fans, the fifth largest attendance total the club has ever totaled.
The match got off to a rapid start after the Courage recorded the fastest goal in club history only 33 seconds into play. Ryan Williams’s deflected cross ended up sneaking past the outstretched arms of Portland Thorns goalkeeper Bella Bixby.
Portland Thorns were able to equalize in the 22nd minute after Sophia Smith took the ball to the endline and cut the ball back for Crystal Dunn. Dunn was able to steer the ball into the net on a one time effort from close range.
The Courage quickly regained the lead only four minutes later after Kerolin hit a long range stunner that deflected off the post and flew into the back of the net.
In the 31st minute, Sophia Smith nearly gave the Portland Thorns their second goal when she struck a low driven shot that forced Courage goalkeeper Casey Murphy into a quick reaction save.
Sophia Smith had another effort on target in the 38th minute that deflected off Courage defender Kaleigh Kurtz and was parried away by Murphy to keep the Courage’s lead.
Only seconds later, Christine Sinclair had a gilt edged chance in front of goal for the Thorns that ended up skying over the bar.
In stoppage time of the first half, Kerolin got free down the right wing and chopped the ball past Emily Menges. Kerolin was able to play the ball backwards in the box to an incoming Narumi Miura. Miura’s close range effort on goal was saved by Portland Thorns goalkeeper Bella Bixby.
Sophia Smith was able to get forward on a counter attack for the Portland Thorns in the 48th minute and fire a low shot that Murphy was able to save.
The Portland Thorns were able to put together some incisive combination play in the 52nd minute and a nine-pass combination play on the left wing was able to unlock the Courage defense. Sophia Smith was able to send a flick that released Meghan Klingenberg further into the box. Klingenburg sent a square pass across goal for Crystal Dunn and Dunn was able to tap home into a gaping net.
Rookie Olivia Wingate came onto the pitch for the Courage to replace Rikke Madsen in the 56th minute.
Tyler Lussi was nearly able to regain the Courage’s lead in the 58th minute, but her header was saved onto the post by Bixby to keep the match level at 2-2.
In the 61st minute, Kerolin was able to get forward on a counter attack for the Courage and play in rookie Olivia Wingate towards goal. Wingate stuck a shot towards the near post that was saved once again by Bixby.
Wingate gave the Thorns defense trouble once again in the 70th minute when she nutmegged her defender and played the ball back towards Victoria Pickett. Pickett was able to strike a one time finish into the net to give the Courage a lead once again. Pickett’s close range effort notched her first goal for the club since her arrival at the club on April 27th.
Portland Thorns’ Olivia Moultrie struck a long range effort from right outside the edge of the box in the 83rd minute that ended up looping past Murphy to equalize the match for a third time.
The match ended up as a draw in a game that saw both teams create several chances. Kaleigh Kurtz mentioned the atmosphere in front of 7,070 spectators at WakeMed Soccer Park was enjoyable.
“I feel like it’s gonna come off bad, but I try to block out most of the outside noise so that it doesn’t affect me personally in game,” Kurtz said. “Especially when we go to some of the crowds that are very dominant like San Diego. So having you guys [fans] there and I could hear ‘NC Courage’. It was just magical to hear that. Very much appreciated you guys being there.”
Ryan Williams spoke about the team’s fast start and aiming to keep that “tempo” during the duration of matches.
“I thought we started really well with an early goal,” Williams said. “That’s something we’ve been talking about is coming out really strong and setting the tempo. I think there are obviously things that we want to work on throughout the game and that’s not giving up goals. Not letting teams back in the game when we feel like we are finally setting the tempo for the game.”
Williams also believes that there was a challenge playing two games in four days after playing a midweek fixture in the NWSL Challenge Cup against Gotham.
“It’s been challenging,” Williams said. “I think we’ve been really focused on recovery this week. But, we knew that this was kind of our last game before we have a game in like eight days or so. I think we were like let’s just push here. Let’s get through it. We are a very fit team. So,we all have full confidence in each other and we were ready to go tonight.”
Courage head coach Sean Nahas believes his young squad has to learn to stay more disciplined throughout matches.
“They’re young,” Nahas said. “We have to learn to win by discipline. My biggest disappointment is just the first time we scored more than a goal in the game. And, yet we conceded three and we haven’t conceded that many goals all season. So that’s disappointing.”
Nahas was impressed by the performance of Victoria Pickett and the rest of substitutes who came on in the second half. Pickett was traded to the team from Gotham on April 27th in exchange for $200,000 in allocation money.
“I think she’s [Victoria] a class player,” Nahas said. “I think she hasn’t been given the opportunities that she deserves. I was really thrilled for her to score tonight coming off the bench. The subs made a massive difference. That’s the one thing we told them at halftime. When you guys go in, you have to change the game.”
The next scheduled match for the North Carolina Courage is a home fixture in the NWSL against the OL Reign on Sunday, May 14th at 3 PM ET at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, NC.
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.