WilliamsandDebinhaCelebrate_Courage_JH.jpg

NC Courage forwards Lynn Williams and Debinha celebrate after Williams' goal during the club's match against Reign FC at WakeMed Soccer Park on July 13, 2019. The Courage topped Reign, 2-0.

NC Courage beat Reign FC 2-0 on Saturday night thanks to goals by forwards Lynn Williams and Debinha. The win moved the Courage into first place in the NWSL with 22 points from 12 games.

The match saw the return of two more World Cup stars on the field and another three in the stands. Defender Abby Erceg and goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé both started, while US stars Sam Mewis, Abby Dahlkemper and Jessica McDonald all watched the game from the stands.

“It is hard to imagine those guys all trying to come into this lineup,” NC Courage head coach Paul Riley. “The lineup is doing really well, [Hamilton] had another really good game, Lynn [Williams] has hit some great form right now, so she is in great form. Debinha is special right now, she is more Brazilian than Brazilian if that is possible.”

The Courage lined up in their usual 4-2-2-2 to start the game with the fearsome striking duo of Kristen Hamilton and Williams starting up top. The duo scored all five goals in last week's win over Houston.

The Williams and Hamilton partnership picked up where they left off last week with Hamilton assisting Williams for the opening goal of the game. Hamilton received the ball from Denise O’Sullivan before driving forward towards the Reign box, where she found Williams making a darting run between two defenders. Williams took one touch to get the ball out from under herself before slotting home to give the Courage the lead in the 21st minute.

“Me and [Kristen Hamilton] have been playing with each other since the Western New York days,” Williams said. “I think you are just finally seeing us be able to come together and combine… She is one of my best friends as well so I think that plays a part on the field.”

Debinha, who returned to the team two games ago after playing for Brazil at the World Cup, nearly scored in the 43rd minute. The Brazilian launched a shot from the top of the box which beat Reign FC keeper Casey Murphy but ricochetted of the post and out of bounds.

Reign FC was forced to make two subs during the first half due to injury with Shea Groom and Beverly Yanez both forced out of the game. The pair were replaced by Maegan Kelly and Addison Steiner.

The Courage was the better of the teams in the first half, outshooting the visitors 13 to five, but during the added time of the first half Reign came to life, hitting the bar once and creating a few other good scoring opportunities. Reign FC head coach Vlatko Andonovski used his third and final sub at the start of the second half bringing in Kristen McNabb for Celia Delgado. 

“We haven’t had luck with injuries and with the health of the team,” Andonovski said. “This is our fourth game where we had to make two subs before halftime.”

Williams and Hamilton nearly combined again early in the second half. Just like the opening goal Hamilton slipped the ball into Hamilton as she split the center back but the forward shot the ball right at Murphy, who fumbled the ball but was able to recover before Williams could get to the rebound.

Debinha doubled the Courage advantage in the 55th minute, the Brazilian drifted to the back post unmarked and knocked home a cross from right back Merritt Mathias. The Brazilian has scored or assisted in each of the three games since her return from international duty, scoring against both Reign FC and Washington Spirit, and assisting a goal against the Dash.

“Debinha is just different,” Riley said. “When you look at our midfield, and that is even with Crystal Dunn in or anybody else, Debinha is different. When you look through all the teams in the league and you look at all the special players who have come from abroad, like the Martas of the world, Debinha is probably the number one right now, beside Sam Kerr who scores tons of goals.”

The Courage finished the game as the clearly dominant side rattling off 23 shots overall and 10 shots on target, but Murphy was excellent in the Reign FC net making eight saves. 

The four players who won the World Cup with the USWNT report to the team on Tuesday and will be available for the Courage’s next two games, both of which are on the road. Following those two games, however, the players will likely be back with the USWNT for a Victory Tour following those two games.

“We will give them three or four days,” Riley said. “ We will make decisions on them Wednesday or Thursday whether we think they can play next weekend. I wouldn’t guarantee they will be in the line up next week. We need to take our time and make sure they are physically and mentally ready to play.”

The Courage’s next game will be in Chicago against the Red Stars on July 21. The Red Stars currently sit in sixth in the NWSL but boast a solid lineup including Australian striker Sam Kerr.