The NC Courage’s unbeaten streak was snapped by a 1-0 loss to the Portland Thorns on Sunday, Sept. 12. The team’s seven-game streak, consisting of four wins and three draws, went all the way back to the July 23 draw in Kansas City.
Across the 90, the Courage were outshot 24-11 and while they had chances, they struggled to connect on the dangerous final ball all afternoon.
“It wasn't a great performance,” said Courage head coach Paul Riley. “We didn’t create enough chances. We had two very good chances that we didn’t put away. … We looked like we were in a scrimmage game at times. We just really weren’t at the races at all.”
After the game, Riley said the 10s continued to struggle and have been out of form for the last few weeks. With the 10s unable to create, the Courage have struggled to get anything going offensively. Since the July 4 win over Washington, the Courage have had just one multi-goal game.
“We are getting no production out of our 10s at the moment,” Riley said. “It is hurting us, not only from a goal perspective or assist perspective, but just from a passing, final ball, creative perspective. I think that's where we're probably struggling the most is in the 10s. We just have a couple players really out of form and most of them happen to be at the attacking end of the field, unfortunately.”
The Courage’s five-game shutout streak also came to an end against Portland. Sophia Smith got behind the Courage’s defense and used the outside of her foot to get the ball around Courage goalkeeper Casey Murphy in the 57th minute. The goal was the first the Courage had conceded in 547 minutes, a run that went all the way back to the 50th minute of the team’s July 31 game against the Orlando Pride.
“The goal wasn't a great goal,” Riley said. “I thought we could have done a much better job defensively and goalkeeping on that one to be honest with you. But Casey has won us 25 points, so I think you can’t blame Casey at this point. She's had a tremendous season.”
Early in stoppage time, substitute Taylor Smith nearly spearheaded a charge for a Courage equalizer. Smith drove forward and cut inside before slipping the ball wide to fellow substitute Amy Rodriguez, but Rodriguez shot the ball directly at Portland keeper Bella Bixby.
The Thorns dominated the opening 45 minutes, outshooting the Courage 15-4. Despite the dominance, the two sides headed into the break locked at 0-0 thanks in large part to the play of Murphy. Murphy, who leads the league in clean sheets with 10, made five saves in the first half and seven across the 90.
While the Courage lacked the quantity of chances that Portland had, both Jess McDonald and Lynn Williams had opportunities. McDonald had a close-range shot blocked by Bixby, while Williams managed to get behind the Thorns’ defense before being stopped by a stellar recovery run.
The Courage continued to have some decent chances in the second half, but could not connect on the final ball.
“In the game I personally felt like they definitely had the momentum in the first half but I think it started to shift for us in the second half,” said Cari Roccaro. “I think space has started to open up, obviously legs get tired, and I think we were starting to connect in our midfield … We always come knocking at the door [in the second half]. Oftentimes, we pull out a late goal to either tie or win, but it just wasn't our day.”
In the 25th minute, Merritt Mathias received her fifth yellow card of the season, meaning she will be suspended for one game because of accumulation.
The Courage have a 13-day break before it’s next game, giving it time to reflect on and figure out what went wrong in the loss. The team will be back in action on Sept. 25 as it hits the road to take on NJ/NY Gotham. While some might appreciate the break after a tough loss, Riley would prefer to get back at it right away.
“Best thing for any team is to get back on and get stuck in, start getting results again,” Riley said. “Obviously we haven't scored in a few games, so that's in the back of the mind for another two weeks. And seven or eight of the players are gone now to international duty, so we lose a lot for practice, but I would rather play tomorrow morning to be perfectly honest with you and I think most of the players would probably say that.”