Jess McDonald’s goal lifts the Courage over the Reign, 1-0
North Carolina Courage improve to 4-0-0 on the season
Jessica McDonald scored her second goal of the season. (Photo credit: Andy Mead/
Jessica McDonald scored her second goal of the season. (Photo credit: Andy Mead/

By Celia Balf

Jessica McDonald scored in the 70th minute to earn the North Carolina Courage a 1-0 victory over Seattle Reign FC on Wednesday night at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina. The Courage now extend their winning streak in 2018 to four games and hold on to the top spot in the league standings with a perfect 4-0-0 record. The Reign suffered their first loss of the season and are 2-1-0.

This midweek match put the league’s top two teams head-to-head, with the Courage in the No. 1 spot after three weeks and the Reign at No. 2. Both sides entered Week 4 after a quick turnaround from Week 3 action where the Courage earned a road win on Saturday beating the Washington Spirit 4-2 and the Reign defeating Sky Blue FC 1-0 on Sunday.

The Courage saw the better end in Week 4 thanks to McDonald’s finish in the 70th minute. McDonald now has 37 NWSL career goals and this was her second of the season. Her goal came from a perfectly weighted through ball from forward Kristen Hamilton. McDonald, who saw a chance like this just minutes before, was able to bury it this go around with her right foot.

The Reign were without Megan Rapinoe on the night due to a left hamstring injury she suffered against Sky Blue FC over the weekend. The March NWSL Player of the Month has been the difference maker for Seattle on the year earning two goals and picking up the Week 1 Player of the Week nod. The Courage on the other hand, were well suited on the night with Crystal Dunn, McDonald, Lynn Williams and Week 3 Player of the Week, McCall Zerboni all starting in the match. Courage midfielder Sam Mewis made her 2018 NWSL debut in the 78th minute subbing in for Hamilton. Mewis has been out all season with a right knee strain. Defender Kaleigh Kurtz was thrown into the mix in her NWSL debut starting at center back, usually where defender Abby Dahlkemper plays alongside Abby Erceg. Dahlkemper was not on the roster for the game, ending her streak of consecutive minutes played at 5,850, an NWSL record.

The first half saw both sides battling for the go-ahead goal. The game was scrappy with the first chance for the Courage coming in the sixth minute after Hamilton drew a foul a few yards outside of the box. Jaelene Hinkle and Zerboni lined up to take the free kick, but rather than striking it like Zerboni did in Week 3 (in her brace against the Spirit) she chipped it looking for a onside McDonald.

Seattle’s earliest chance came minutes later when forward Beverly Yanez got a good look on goal and was able to strike it with her root foot towards the right corner, however Courage goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo made the stop. D’Angelo finished the match with one save and now has three shutouts on the year.

Reign FC had a huge stop in the 18th minute by Kiersten Dallstream. Dallstream made a goal line clearance off of a North Carolina corner kick.

For the Courage it was hard to miss the work from Dunn on the right wing. Aside from getting four shots off (all on goal) she also was dangerous on all sides of the ball working back defensively helping defender Merritt Mathias handle the pressure of Reign forward Jodie Taylor and Dallstream down the flank.

At the half it was scoreless, with neither side able to find the edge. While the Courage led in shots after the first 45, seven to the Reign’s three, Seattle held the advantage in possession with 56.9% to North Carolina’s 43.1%.

The second half kicked off with what would be the story of Courage forward Lynn Williams‘ night. Williams had a chance in the 48th minute off of a through ball from McDonald. Williams picked up her head and looked to shoot left, but the shot went wide.

The best spark of offense for Seattle came in the 67th minute when Jasmyne Spencer entered the game. Spencer came in and immediately put pressure on the Courage, seeing her first chance in the 69th minute off a cross from midfielder Allie Long.

McDonald’s goal came a minute later and put her team up and in what would be control of the remainder of the match.

In the 74th minute Williams had a chance to extend her team’s lead by two, but her shot went high. A minute later, Williams again has another look on goal after a Mathias crossinto the box. Williams got her right foot on it, but the strike was collected by Reign goalkeeper Michelle Betos.

In the 78th minute, Williams had another chance. This time the play was started from Mewis, just moments after subbing into the game. Mewis played a wide open through ball to Williams during a fast break, but her right-footed shot was again collected. Williams finished the game with eight shots and two on goal.

Darian Jenkins came into the match for McDonald in the 79th minute and had a chance to put her team up 2-0 when she dribbled with pace down the right flank and eventually cut in to dribble centrally where she got a shot off to the right corner. Betos once again came up with a big save for her side. Betos finished the match with four saves.

Seattle had the edge on possession for the night at 55.3% to North Carolina’s 44.7%, the Reign also held a slightly higher passing accuracy with 72.9% to the Courage’s 70%.

The Courage will have a short break before hosting Utah Royals FC on Saturday April, 21 while the Reign will get a breather before traveling to Orlando to face the Pride on Saturday, April 28.

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