Erceg’s header goal lifts the Courage over the Spirit, 1-0
The Courage are unbeaten in eight games
Courage defender Abby Erceg scores her first goal of the season. (Photo credit:
Courage defender Abby Erceg scores her first goal of the season. (Photo credit:

A second-half header goal from defender Abby Erceg lifted the North Carolina Courage over the Washington Spirit 1-0 on Saturday night at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina. The Courage improve to eight games unbeaten this season and wrap up Week 7 at 6-0-2. The Spirit dropped their second-straight game on the road and are still in search of their second win of the year at 1-4-2.

This was the second meeting of the season between the Courage and the Spirit with the Courage taking the first game 4-2. This match was the first time Washington Spirit forward Ashley Hatch and defender Taylor Smith returned to North Carolina since playing for the reigning 2017 Shield winners. The Courage entered Saturday night’s game topping the league in goals (12) and assists (10) and once again were able to find a result to keep them a top of the league standings. This was the 11th 1-0 regular season victory for the Courage in franchise history.

In the first half the Spirit were able to stay organized and hold the Courage off the board. The Courage saw the better of the opportunities offensively, finishing the first 45 minutes with 10 shots off to the Spirit’s four. The game’s first chance came from Courage forward Crystal Dunn. Dunn, who has three goals on the year, was sprung through into space from a Sam Mewis service just before the third minute of play. Spirit goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe earned her first save of the night and stopped the Courage from the early lead.

Bledsoe and Dunn came into contact with one another not too long after. The same order of sequence occurred for the Courage: Mewis made things happen in the midfield and was able to thread a ball through to Dunn running into space. And once again, Bledsoe came up big for her side and made a diving save to the right post. Bledsoe finished the game with five saves and now has a league-leading 37 saves on the season.

On the other side of the pitch, Courage goalkeeper Katelyn Rowland stepped up for her team and earned a huge save against Spirit forward Mallory Pugh. Pugh, who had a break on goal had her angle on goal cut off by a diving Rowland. Rowland earned the stop and kept the game level before the break. Rowland made three saves in the win and earned her first shutout of the year. This was Rowland’s second game in net for the Courage this season, her last performance was against Utah Royals FC on April 21, when the Courage earned one point in a 2-2 draw.

Before Erceg scored the eventual game-winner, the Spirit looked like they were going to get one just minutes after the second-half started. Spirit midfielder Andi Sullivan played one over the top and Tori Huster looked like she was going to volley one in, but Rowland came up with a huge stop for her side to keep the game blank.

Eventually Erceg found a way to get it done for her team. The defender headed home a service from defender Jaelene HinkleThe service came following a free-kick chance for the Courage and Hinkle whipped one in and Erceg headed it past Bledsoe for the 1-0 lead in the 63rd minute. This was Erceg’s first goal of the year.

The Courage controlled the possession on the evening with 52.7% to the Spirit’s 47.3%. Mewis was a key piece in the Courage’s midfield earning just her second-start of the year. She had a team high 68 touches. Courage midfielder Debinha dominated her team in shots with four on the night. Defensively the Courage were locked in through tackling from midfielder McCall Zerboni (6) and interceptions (3).

Defender Merritt Mathias also helped her side win four interceptions. For the Spirit, Whitney Church and Smith held down the defensive line each earning seven clearances on the night. The Spirit were without defender Estelle Johnson who has been a key piece to their defense all year. Johnson had a league-best 45 clearances, but was kept off the roster for the night due to a right hamstring strain injury.

The Courage will next travel to Yurcak Field to take on Sky Blue FC and the Spirit will return home to host Portland Thorns FC on Saturday, May 19.

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