In their final home game of the season, the North Carolina Courage were bested 3-0 by a Margaret Purce and Carli Lloyd led NJ/NY Gotham FC on Sunday, Oct. 17.
After a scoreless first half in which North Carolina forward Lynn Williams missed a pair of gilt-edge chances to give the Courage a lead, Gotham bagged three goals in 13 minutes to all but eliminate the Courage from playoff contention.
“I felt we were okay in the first half,” said Courage interim head coach Sean Nahas. “I felt we created some good chances and settled into the game. Players did what was asked of them in terms of out of possession and then once they scored, you could just see we could never get back in.”
While not mathematically eliminated, the Courage are now on the outside looking in with Gotham leapfrogging them after taking all three points. North Carolina has just one game left to play and is level with Gotham and the Houston Dash on points, both of whom hold the tiebreakers against the Courage.
If Houston beats the Portland Thorns on Sunday evening, it will clinch its spot and Gotham still has two games in hand on the Courage and three total games left this season.
For the Courage to make the playoffs at this point, they would need to get a result in Portland on Oct. 30, a loss would eliminate them, regardless of other results. With a draw in Portland, the Courage would need one of Houston or Gotham to lose out; and with a win in Portland, one of Houston or Gotham would need to pick up a two points or less across their final games of the season.
Purce broke open the tightly contested game in the 54th minute, capitalizing on a poor touch from Courage midfielder Cari Roccaro. Roccaro’s attempt to clear the cross completely took Courage center back Abby Erceg out of the equation, as the deflected cross bounced right over her head.
Purce then doubled Gotham’s advantage in the 64th minute, tapping in a rebound from close range after teammate Ifeoma Onumonu’s initial shot was saved.
Playing in WakeMed Soccer Park for the final time in her legendary career, Carli Lloyd got her name on the scoresheet in the 67th minute. Lloyd let loose a low, driven shot along the ground from outside the box and managed to sneak it past Courage keeper Casey Murphy at the near post.
“The goals they scored were just second-phase goals off our rebound or miss clearance or deflection,” Nahas said. “Those are the types of goals we've been giving up lately. They haven't really been in the build. They haven't really been in combinations. So, that's a bit frustrating and it can be deflating at times.”
The Courage responded well to the third goal and created some solid opportunities, including one that saw Debinha’s shot pushed onto the post by Olympic gold-medalist Kailen Sheridan.
Despite conceding three goals, Murphy had yet another solid performance in net. The current league-leader in clean sheets made five saves in the game and was put in a tough spot on each of Gotham’s first two goals.
Away from the goal-scoring opportunities, the battle in the midfield was fantastic to watch. Courage midfielder Denise O’Sullivan and Roccaro went up against former teammate McCall Zerboni, alongside Allie Long, Nahomi Kawasumi and Lloyd who dropped deep to cause the Courage duo a lot of grief.
“When you look at who you're playing against, I mean that's as good of a midfield as it gets in this league,” Rocarro said. “They're unbelievable. They play really good football and you can even add Carli dropping in into that mix as well. I mean they're really, really tough to play against .I thought there were times where we held our own and then I thought there were times they picked us apart.”
Before the game, three Courage players were honored for career milestones. Merritt Mathias made her 150th career NWSL start, becoming just the fourth player in league history to hit that milestone. Amy Rodriguez was recognized for her 100th league appearances, which she made as a substitute in the 63rd minute and O’Sullivan was honored for the same milestone, which she reached on Oct. 6.
Merritt Mathias, Denise O'Sullivan and Amy Rodriguez were honored before the game for a trio of career milestones.Mathias is making her 150th regular-season start today.O'Sullivan and Rodriguez were both honored for 100 career appearances. #NCvNJNY pic.twitter.com/nQJhQceCJl— Nicholas Schnittker (@nick_schnittker) October 17, 2021
After playing four games in two weeks, the Courage will now have some time off with the international break before its final game of the season in Portland on Oct. 30.
“Not having games for two weeks will be good for this group,” Nahas said. “I mean we've played a month's worth in a week, but you know the one thing I'll say is that group never stopped battling, they never stopped competing and that's enough for me to take and build and bring into Portland.”