The Courage earned some much-needed breathing room before their game against Seattle on Sunday by taking care of business late last night against FC Kansas City. It wasn’t the most polished game on offense or defense, but the Lynn Williams goal in the 86th minute was enough to earn the Courage their 11th win on the season and a commanding 4 point lead in the standings.
|North Carolina Courage||11||5||0||33|
|Chicago Red Stars||8||3||5||29|
On a night when the NFL preseason got into full swing, the Courage played a postponed game against the league-worst FC Kansas City and just barely pulled off a win to avoid their first draw of the season. At the start the Courage looked like they would crush FCKC, but they never really got their shot going and the first ten minutes failed to produce a goal for the visitors on a warm night in Kansas City. After that point, while the game was wide open, neither team found their shooting rhythm and we went into the half looking exhausted. Throughout the first half our defense looked absolutely gassed and out of sorts. It almost felt like they came into the game with the goal of pressing high and getting all four defenders way up the field, but it just looked like chaos as the Blues slotted through-balls into open space behind the defense repeatedly. If we had been playing a more offensively competent team we might have conceded a goal, but FCKC couldn’t find a rhythm and when they did find the right pass they were offside instead. The one stand out player from the first half was goalkeeper Katelyn Rowland, who kept the Blues off the scoreboard with two excellent saves – the second of which should win the Save of the Week award.
Things on the offensive end were just as discombobulated. Considering the fact that Paul Riley said that FCKC was the better team when they played for 38 minutes before lightning ended the game a few weeks ago, the fact that he trotted out the exact same lineup was a shock to me. Sure, the lineup looked different on their graphic, but it was the same 11 players playing the same 11 roles. Well, Sam Witteman was starting instead of the injured Hinkle, but you get the point. The team had plenty of great offensive opportunities, but something always broke down. Sometimes we held the ball for too long, sometimes we drove the ball into two defenders instead of passing, and more often than not the shot just didn’t find a way to test Barnhart – the KC keeper. It wasn’t until we used all three subs, bringing McDonald, Doniak and O’Sullivan onto the field, that the team found a scoring rhythm and Williams finally put the ball past the keeper. In the end, though, we could afford a few missteps against FCKC, but that kind of soccer won’t fly against a team like Seattle on Sunday.
Denise O’Sullivan Gets Her First Taste of Action
While I am anxiously awaiting the first time Nora Holstad steps onto the pitch in a Courage game, it was nice to see that Paul Riley trusted O’Sullivan to make her first appearance in such an important situation. The Irish national and former Houston Dash midfielder replaced Debinha in the attacking midfielder role in the 65th minute of the game, which gives us a pretty clear idea about how Paul Riley sees her role on the team. It doesn’t look like she will be replacing Doniak on the flank, but instead she will be a substitute for Debinha in games where we need an offensive boost. Her first few minutes were disappointing, as she didn’t put much pressure on the opposition and couldn’t find her rhythm with the group. After about 8 minutes of game play the rest of the Courage seemed to bypass her in rotations and she looked lost on the pitch. Once we reached the 80th minute, though, she looked like she fit right in. She was putting pressure on the FCKC players with the ball, making herself available for passes in space and making the right positioning decisions for the team. She didn’t come onto the field and make a huge difference, but she was a positive contributor to the team.
While we’re talking about positive contributors, I absolutely loved Mak Doniak in the relief role for Kris Hamilton. While Doniak doesn’t have the speed to play the Courage style of offense from the 1st minute of the game, she definitely does have the speed for the 70+th minute of the game. I was extremely excited to see her enter the game, and along with McDonald I can see us swinging a lot of late, close games with their experience and rapport. She will provide a nice, consistent replacement for any outside midfielder that needs a breather and has the ability to deliver the ball into the box at a time in the game when defenders are more prone to making little mental mistakes.