The North Carolina Courage christened its first game at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park with a 1-0 win over the Portland Thorns to move to 2-0 in the National Women’s Soccer League. The lone goal was scored by Debinha with 10 minutes left in the game.
The atmosphere for the Courage’s first home game is what helped set the tone for the match, according to Jessica McDonald. The attendance was 6,298.
“It’s such a soccer town that it didn’t even surprise me that we got the crowd that we got,” McDonald said. “I thought they were incredible, what an incredible environment. We couldn’t have asked for a better performance.”
In the 80th minute, Debinha received a cross from McDonald and delivered a header to give the first home goal for the Courage with just over 10 minutes left to play. McDonald complimented the head from Debinha.
“I faked once, twice and then I saw (Lynne) Williams and Debinha get into the box.” McDonald said. “I lobbed past the first defender and the goalkeeper hoping they wouldn’t get it, and Debinha got that header. That header was tenacious.”
The Thorns made many frantic attempts on goal in the final 10 minutes of game time and three minutes of stoppage time, but could they could not close the gap and the Courage held on for the 1-0 win.
The Courage came into the game off of its first win in team history, defeating the Washington Spirit 1-0. Going into the game, the Courage were also in a three-way tie in points for the top spot in the NWSL. Head coach Paul Riley could tell this team was going to play well during warmups.
“I watched the warm-ups last week, and last week we looked nervous,” Riley said. “But today in warmup, we looked like we were ready to play, which gave us a lot of confidence.”
The Courage wasted no time going on the attack. After starting the game with ball, the Courage would get a corner-kick opportunity during the third minute of the game, but failed to get the ball into the goal. The Thorns would get the ball and keep things tied at 0-0.
The Courage would get another attempt to score in the seventh minute with a free kick from Abby Dahlkemper, but Dahlkemper couldn’t get the ball to a teammate. The Thorns would counter with an attack opportunity of their own, but failed to get a shot on goal and the stalemate continued.
Despite the two quick chances on goal, Riley though the team started as fast as it should have, saying the team started “slow”.
The Thorns got another opportunity for a goal but Allie Long’s service went long and out of play and the Courage escaped without giving up a shot on goal to keep things tied at 0 in the 10th minute.
In the 14th minute the Courage got its first shot on goal but missed the mark wide left, giving the ball back to the Thorns with the score still tied at 0. Thorns head coach Mark Parsons wanted the team to take advantage of the opportunities given to them during the first 15 minutes of the game but was unable to do so.
“It’s a tough game and a tough opposition,” Parsons said. “In the first 15 minutes we had a couple of chances, and we needed to steal some of those chances, but we didn’t.”
Carolina went on the attack in the 18th minute on a service from Makenzy Doniac, but McDonald’s header narrowly missed the goal. Though the score remained tied at 0, both teams were getting ample opportunities to get chances on goal.
Doniac and Debinha both got shots on goal in 29th minute, with the latter attempting a bicycle kick, but both shots would miss. In the 32nd minute, Amandine Henry nearly scored but D’Angelo would save goal and keep the ball in play to keep things all knotted up. Long credited the Courage’s athleticism as the reason to why the Thorns had so much trouble.
“They’re super athletic, and they high pressed us,” Long said. “We didn’t really get to play the way we wanted to play, but they kept us out of a rhythm so credit to them.”
Dahlkemper got a free kick opportunity in the 42nd minute. The kick found its way to Lynne Williams, but Williams missed over the crossbar and turned it over to the Thorns. Despite multiple scoring opportunities for both teams, the game went into the half knotted up a 0-0.
The Courage dominated the Thorns in shots (9-2), corner kicks (4-1) and possession percentage (60.7-39.3). While impressed with the stat line, Riley said he was more concerned with where the “next goal would come from”.
Williams got a breakaway opportunity for the Courage, but narrowly missed the inside post, giving the ball back to the Thorns with the score still tied in the 59th minute.
In the 64th minute, Long rocketed a shot on goal, but missed it to the left and surrendered the ball back to the Courage. The game continued into the 70th minute still scoreless.
Following an offsides call on McDonald, the Thorns got multiple corners in the 73rd minute, but the Courage defense proved stout and prevented any scores.
In the 75th minute, the Courage’s hopes to get on the board were dashed as Samantha Mewis missed a goal on a handball penalty. Mewis was assessed a yellow card shortly after after knocking down a Thorns player. Riley was impressed with how the team, and Mewis, rebounded from the sequence of events.
“We missed the penalty and you think maybe momentum is going to swing the other way,” Riley said. “But I was impressed with how Sam recovered, and she had a great last 15 minutes for the game.”
The win gives the Courage three points in the league standings, which at the time of the game’s end, put the Courage at the top of the standings. Riley recognized the significance of the win, especially for building a fanbase.
“I said to them ‘you better have something for them after the game’ ” Riley said. “Handshakes aren’t going to do it, you need to get them on our side and you need to get them here again, cause this was a historic night. For us to be the new kids on the block and have this support is fantastic.”
The Courage’s next game is Saturday against the Orlando Pride at home, after which the team will travel to Boston to take on the Breakers on May 7.