The NWSL-leading NC Courage took down the Houston Dash 1-0 on Tuesday night. The match was the Courage’s fourth in 10 days, the second of which had the Courage out on the west coast to face the Portland Thorns, and it showed.
“It wasn’t one of our great performances,” NC Courage head coach Paul Riley said. “I think we looked a little bit fatigued, fourth game in 10 days, No excuse though. We just looked a little bit tired, a little bit sluggish. Especially in the midfield, the two tens. I thought the last 25 minutes of the first half we were really good... In the second half we pinned them in but we didn’t play great.”
With the win, the Courage cemented its spot in the 2019 NWSL Playoffs with three games to spare. Next up for the Courage is a trip to Utah to face the Royals on Saturday. The Royals currently sit fourth in the table, tied on points with the fifth-place Reign FC. If the Courage can come away with a win in Utah its will clinch its third consecutive NWSL Shield.
“We haven’t even thought about clinching anything,” Riley said. “I think we are just trying to keep everybody healthy and we are gonna have to make some big changes for Sunday’s game.”
The lone goal for the Courage came in the 85th minute with Samantha Mewis converting from the spot. The penalty was given to the Courage following a foul called on Mewis’s sister Kristie. Mewis put the penalty to the keeper’s right and Jane Campbell guessed correctly but was unable to save the shot.
“Jane has been so great from the line and we knew that would be a challenge if that came up,” Mewis said. “I just think Paul had confidence in me to step up there and take it and I had been practicing them a lot for the World Cup. I just felt like I was in a good position to take it.”
The penalty was a controversial one as the Houston Dash head coach James Clarkson believed his side should have been awarded a penalty in the 58th and the Courage’s should not have been called.
“What I take away is the standard of refereeing in this league isn’t good enough,” Clarkson said. “That is numerous times this season that it has cost us points. We get criticized that we haven’t performed at a level. We have come out tonight put everything into the game, we should have had a clear penalty earlier in the second half and the referee has gone and done that. It is disgraceful.”
Riley disagreed, however, and believed his side should have had a penalty earlier in the match as well.
“The one in the first half was a clear penalty,” Riley said. “The one on Debinha in the first half was a clear penalty for me. Clear penalty… [the Houston no penalty] is not a penalty for me. Honestly, she backed into [Hinkle] and then jumped forward, for me that is not a penalty… I would be furious if they gave that.”
The Courage had been in good form coming into the match scoring six in each of their last two games beating both the Thorns and the Pride easily, conceding just once between the two games.
The first half of this game was very different, however, while a few individuals looked alright, the team as a whole did not look sharp. Crystal Dunn, Debinha, Denise O’Sullivan and Kristen Hamilton were among those who had decent first half.
Statistically, the Courage dominated the first half, outshooting the Dash 13-3, but despite the stats, it was not a great half from the league leaders. Just four of the Courage’s shots found the target.
The lackluster first-half performance was not helped by the fact that when the Courage were able to create a good scoring opportunity they were met by an immovable force in Campbell who put on a stellar first-half display in the Houston net making four saves.
The Courage continued to struggle in the final third during the second half, amassing a number of chances but were ultimately unable to find the back of the net until Mewis’s penalty.
In the end, the Courage still dominated the stat sheet, outshooting the Dash 18-7 and hold 60.9% of the possession.
“We had them pinned in the entire second half,” Riley said. “I don’t think they had a shot on goal the entire second half. I thought we pinned them in well. I don’t know what the shots were. We couldn’t get behind them. They had a great game plan but you can’t say that they deserved to win the game.”
The Courage will be back in action on Saturday at Utah as it attempts to clinch its third consecutive NWSL Shield.