In the 92nd minute, Courage defender Jaelene Hinkle drove the ball out from deep in the home team’s defensive half before splitting the Sky Blue defense with a long through ball for Jessica McDonald. As goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan came racing off her line in attempts of cutting of McDonald’s view of the goal, McDonald cut around Sheridan, causing the keeper to dive to the ground in an unsuccessful last-ditch effort. With a wide open net in front of her, McDonald easily finished to maintain North Carolina’s perfect start to the season.
“I felt that we did really well in the first half. We were able to possess the ball for longer periods of time, and we prevented them from getting behind our back line,” said Denise Reddy, Sky Blue FC head coach, in the team’s official release. “In the second half, we lost some of our rhythm and were unable to keep possession as long. We spent so much time defending that we started to get ourselves pinned back a bit.”
Statistically speaking, the Courage dominated the match, outshooting Sky Blue 23-3 with six shots to none on goal. However, a strong defensive showing by Sky Blue in the opening half and a lack of finishing in the second half prevented the Courage from getting on the board sooner.
Looking beyond the statistics, Sky Blue showed a lot of promise in Saturday’s match, especially in a match where the odds were against them. They experienced a lot of roster turnover during the offseason, whereas the Courage started a lineup that looked nearly identical to ones implemented in their NWSL Shield-winning 2017 season. Sky Blue were coming off a bye week, while the Courage were coming off a 1-0 win over the reigning league champs, Portland Thorns FC. Sky Blue was also on the road, while the Courage were playing in front of over 4,000 home fans.
All these considered, had Sky Blue been able to hold on for a scoreless draw, it would have been a moral victory for the team. They enjoyed the majority of the possession (58%) in the first half, and their midfield connected nicely to move the ball around the field. Their defense also caused problems for the Courage attack, often disrupting the North Carolina midfield.
However, as Reddy said, the team fell apart a bit in the second half, and the momentum swung almost completely in North Carolina’s favor. They had multiple opportunities to score well before McDonald’s late game winner, and it was only by sheer luck that Sky Blue didn’t find themselves trailing early in the second half. In the end the better team managed to earn the win, and both teams will now have time to reset during the international break before retaking the field in Week 3.
Sky Blue return to the field on Sunday, April 15, when they host the Seattle Reign FC in their 2018 home opener at Yurcak Field. That game is scheduled to kick off at 5:00 p.m. ET.