Coming off of their first back-to-back losses since May 2017, the North Carolina Courage drew 0-0 with Kansas City. The Courage had just 15 players available for the game.
Just hours before the game, the Courage received two breakthrough positive tests. As a result, the two players who tested positive, Jess McDonald and Ryan Williams, as well as two other players deemed to be close contacts, Havana Solaun and Sam Murphy, were all forced to self-quarantine. All four players are asymptomatic, according to a tweet from the team.
In addition to those four, the Courage were also without seven other players, with Lindsey Agnew, Peyton Perea, and Hailey Harbison all working their way back from previously known injuries and the Courage’s four Olympians, Sam Mewis, Lynn Williams, Abby Erceg, and Debinha all currently in Tokyo.
Adding to the mounting roster issues and storylines of the game was Thursday’s trade between Kansas City and the Courage. All four players involved in the trade featured in their new teams’ matchday squads. Kristen Hamilton started up front for Kansas City, while Hailie Mace and Katelyn Rowland both started the game on the bench. On the other side of the field, Amy Rodriguez was thrown straight into the Courage’s starting lineup.
“So sad,” said Denise O’Sullivan. “Honestly, I think it was tough. It was tough for everyone. It was obviously more tough for the girls, Hammy and Mace having to play against us and obviously A-Rod too playing against her old team. But I think it's just been a tough few days for everyone. And I mean, they played fantastic for them, they're so dangerous. It was a nightmare trying to mark Hammy all game and when Mace came on. But it's been a tough few days. They're our best friends honestly. They've been here the whole time, especially Hammy and [Rowland]. We built some really amazing friendships with them. But obviously, we wish them nothing but the best. We'll keep in touch.”
With Rowland traded and Sam Murphy under COVID protocol, the Courage were left with no backup goalkeeper for the game and just four substitutes of any kind.
While the back two thirds of the Courage’s lineup remained unchanged from the last game, the front end of the team was very different. Meredith Speck and Cari Roccaro started as the 10s and Taylor Smith partnered with Rodriguez in the striker role. Roccaro impressed in the No. 10 role in the Courage’s last outing, but it is still not a position she has played often and prior to Friday’s game, Speck and Smith had only seen 61 and 33 minutes of action this season, respectively.
The lack of minutes and game time together really showed for the Courage’s attack in the first half. Rodriguez showed some good flashes of energy and aggression early in the half, but overall the attack looked disjointed. The group grew into the game and made improvements over the half, but continued to struggle with turning the ball over.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do on [Rodriguez’s] movements,” said NC Courage head coach Paul Riley. “We didn't know where she was going, coming in, going out, going long, going short, going wide, coming in. We're all over the place in the midfield tonight. We have a lot of things to work on that’s for sure.”
While Kansas City’s trio of new players got an opportunity to train with their new team before the game, Rodriguez wasn’t able to and with so many other players out, she was thrust right into the lineup.
“A-Rod was [in Kansas City] so she just came to the hotel today to be honest with you, introduced us and threw her in the lineup and off we went,” Riley said. “Difficult for A-Rod obviously just coming straight in. Difficult for their players too for Hammy and for Macer and for Kate. Obviously this happened so fast.”
While the attack couldn’t get much going, the Courage’s backline was very solid and kept the two teams locked at 0-0, despite Kansas City outshooting the Courage 9-5 in the opening 45 minutes.
The Courage attack had some moments in the second half, but was overall still lackluster. The best chances for the Courage came from long throw-ins by Kaleigh Kurtz and subs, like Brittany Ratcliffe, found some success getting into dangerous areas.
Overall, Kansas City outshot the Courage 14-7 and held 54.5% of the possession. Given the shorthanded gameday roster and circumstances of the game, the draw is not a bad result for the Courage.
“I feel sorry for the ball,” Riley said. “It must be screaming in pain from getting kicked all over the map. It wasn’t a great game of soccer to be honest with you. There wasn't a lot of fluency to it. We couldn't find any rhythm…. there wasn't much quality on the show tonight, I don't think. Probably a 0-0 might be a fair result.”
One of the major bright spots for the Courage was the continued excellent play of goalkeeper Casey Murphy, who made six saves on the night.
Next up for the Courage will be another showdown with the Orlando Pride on July 31 as they try to get back to winning ways.