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Courage salvages draw, avoids losing streak with goal from unexpected source

Courage to host Women’s International Champions Cup

Courage coach Paul Riley discusses hosting Women’s International Champions Cup in August.
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Courage coach Paul Riley discusses hosting Women’s International Champions Cup in August.

The North Carolina Courage needed a late second-half goal from a player making her first league appearance in nearly a year to earn a 1-1 tie at WakeMed Soccer Park, doing just enough against the Utah Royals to avoid back-to-back losses for the first time in two years.

North Carolina, which outshot Utah 18-2, is now 2W-1L-3T and in fifth place in the NWSL standings.

“Total second-half dominance,” Courage coach Paul Riley said. “But we didn’t finish our chances again – same old, same old. Three games out of four at home where we’ve said we haven’t finished the chances.”

The one player who did finish her chances was midfielder Elizabeth Eddy, who played in her first NWSL match since June 4, 2018. Nagging injuries and the depth of the Courage squad had largely kept Eddy out of the fold the past two seasons – she made seven NWSL appearance in 2016 and 2017 – but she started 22 times when the Western New York Flash won a title in 2016.

With the Courage staring down a second straight loss, Eddy showed her quality. The ball fell to Debinha at the edge of the box, and the Brazilian flicked a pass beyond the Utah backline. Eddy was in on goal, albeit from a tight angle. But her strike was cleanly hit and too hard for Utah goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart to handle, as it flew into the left corner.

“I’m prepared, just ready for coach to give me the opportunity, but I’m really thankful for the opportunity he just gave me. Just stoked to be on this team, where I think honestly top to bottom everybody’s fit, everybody’s ready.”

Utah opened the scoring with a sliding kick by Amy Rodriguez in the seventh minute, as Courage goalkeeper Katelyn Rowland appeared to misjudge the direction of the shot, thinking it was going wide. The visitors remained the lead – looking to win in Cary for the second time in less than a year – until Eddy cancelled Rodriguez’s goal out.

This season, more so than any other, demands players like Eddy to step up. A stark reminder of what the Courage are missing because of this summer’s World Cup, U.S. National Team players Samantha Mewis, Abby Dahlkemper and Jessica McDonald were all in attendance at Sunday’s game, playing the role of spectator during a break from their World Cup preparations.

Also gone is goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe of Canada National Team, and center back Abby Erceg (New Zealand) and forward Debinha (Brazil) will be gone soon. The Courage aren’t the only team going through World Cup-year growing pains, but it’s already been a factor in Cary. The Courage’s three home ties are one more than last year’s total.

“That’s the reality of this year,” Riley said. “The thing is there is a lot of pressure on Lynn Williams right now. So if Lynn doesn’t score, everybody’s looking at Lynn Williams. On a normal day if Lynn Williams doesn’t score, Jess McDonald scores or Crystal Dunn scores or Sam makes a 40-yard run and smashes it upper 90.”

On Sunday, Williams had two legitimate looks at goal, first in the 10th minute when she sliced a shot wide right after getting behind the Utah defense. She did the same in the 72nd minute, but this time shot right at Utah’s Barnhart.

The games don’t stop even though the Courage are without some of their most dangerous weapons. Riley knows tactical adjustments are needed.

“I don’t think it’s gonna be some pretty stuff the next two weeks, but if we show the type of determination we showed second half, we’ll be OK,” Riley said. “But I don’t think it’s gonna pretty, I’ve got to be honest with you.”

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