McDonald scores late, Courage top Sky Blue 1-0
Jessica McDonald scored in the 92nd minute.
Jessica McDonald scored the game winner to improve the Courage to 2-0 on the season. (Photo credit: Grant Halverson/
Jessica McDonald scored the game winner to improve the Courage to 2-0 on the season. (Photo credit: Grant Halverson/

By Celia Balf

A late goal from Jessica McDonald served the North Carolina Courage their second straight win in the 2018 season. The Courage topped Sky Blue FC 1-0 on Saturday afternoon at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park in front of a crowd of 4,078 fans. The Courage are now 2-0-0 to start the season, while Sky Blue FC suffers a loss in their first result for 2018.

McDonald’s goal came in the 92nd minute mark off of a through ball from Jaelene Hinkle in behind. McDonald, who scored four goals last season for the Courage, made all the difference off the bench tonight. In 2017, McDonald became the first NWSL player to score 33 regular-season career goals, she now has 36 goals to date. The forward came on in the 55th minute for Kristen Hamilton, and wasted no time creating opportunities for the Courage, getting three shots off on goal in her 35 minutes of play.

The Courage dominated the game in chances, with 23 shots to Sky Blue’s three. This is the exact same shooting ratio from the Courage’s game last weekend against Portland Thorns FC. The Courage defeated the Thorns 1-0 on opening NWSL weekend and outshot the reigning NWSL champs 20-3. The 1-0 scoreline is another familiar Courage performance, with 2017 seeing the Courage record eight wins with a 1-0 scoreline in regular season and the playoffs.

Saturday’s first half could of suggested the game going either way; with both sides combining in the midfield and finding space out wide. Sky Blue FC were particularly impressive in Carli Lloyd’s presence in the middle. Lloyd, in her first game for Sky Blue, showed clear leadership in her combination play with rookie Savannah McCaskill and play with Shea Groom down the right flank. Equally impressive on the attack was the Courage’s Crystal Dunn who was going 1-v-1 against Sky Blue FC’s Mandy Freeman all game. Freeman held her own to Dunn’s pace, and limited Dunn to two shots on the day.

In Denise Reddy’s first NWSL game, the new head coach for Sky Blue FC went with a one-two-touch passing game plan, that played in Sky Blue’s favor when executed. Between McCaskill, Lloyd, Janine Beckie and Groom there was no shortage of dynamic 1-2 passing to switch the attack and spread out the Courage. Sky Blue held a higher possession at 52.7% to the Courage holding a 47.3%.

With the score 0-0 at halftime, the Courage came out of the first 45 ready to attack. Right off the bat, Hamilton was fed a perfectly paced left-footed through ball from Dunn. Hamilton looked for a far post finish, but her shot kissed the right post. McDonald came into the game after this, and both teams continued to push for the game-winner.

Sky Blue FC saw two different free kick chances in the 81st minute and then the 87th minute, however Lloyd was unable to convert. Three minutes were added in extra time, and it took McDonald just two minutes to put her team on her back with a right-footed shot to the right post.

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