Ashley Hatch and McCall Zerboni scored and Katelyn Rowland got a stroke of luck to keep another clean sheet as the North Carolina Courage stifled the surging Reign, 2-0 to return to the top of the NWSL table. The Courage briefly slipped out of first place on Friday night when the Red Stars, who hold the tiebreaker, joined them on 24 points, but Saturday’s win put the Courage three points clear.
In a match delayed more than two hours by storms in and around Sahlen’s Stadium, the Courage extended the Reign’s struggles on the road where they are just 1-3-2.
Hatch continued her run of scoring form by putting the hosts on top in the 33rd minute. It was a defensive miscue though that cost the Reign. Zerboni sent in a cross from the left side and appeared heading straight to Lauren Barnes but the reigning Defender of the Year took a poor touch, leaving Hatch open in front of goal where she had an easy finish on her 4th goal of the season—all within the last five games.
Hatch nearly had another in the 37th following a Haley Kopmeyer goal kick. Sam Mewis made an athletic play to win the header and set up Hatch and Lynn Williams for a 2-v-1 against Kristen McNabb. Williams took the ball out to the right as McNabb drifted that way. Hatch drifted, unmarked, to the left. Williams got off the cross and Hopmeyer dove out to knock it away from landing on Hatch’s feet for a tap-in. Hatch still made contact in an effort to score a circus goal but it went out of play.
The Reign’s best chance to get back in the match came at the stroke of halftime. Mewis played the ball on the ground back to Rowland who took it with her feet outside the penalty area. Megan Rapinoe swooped in to challenge the clearance and did one better than that, stripping the ball clean to get a look at an open net. As Rowland dove helplessly to try and bother the shot, Rapinoe somehow missed wide with an open goal in front of her.
The put away goal happened in the 81st minute. Abby Dahlkemper’s corner kick was headed down at the far post by Jessica McDonald. The header hit off bodies and landed inside the six where Zerboni cleaned it up.
The Courage (9-4-0, 27 pts) matched theirw in total from 2016 when they were the Western New York Flash and won the NWSL Championship as the 4th seed. They will look for a 10th win next Saturday in Portland. The Reign (5-3-5, 20 pts) dropped to 4th place behind Sky Blue FC, against whom they hold a match in hand. Next up is a home date with the Breakers, also next Saturday.