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USWNT quartet plays full 90, helps Courage topple Reign, take 1st place

Lynn Williams returned from the Tournament of Nations to score a 32nd minute goal while Abby Dahlkemper, Sam Mewis, and Taylor Smith all put in 90 minute shifts fresh off the plane to help the Courage blank the Reign, 1-0, and move back atop the NWSL table. On the other end, Megan Rapinoe did not make herself available for the Reign, who were shut out for the second time in as many trips to Sahlen’s Stadium.

The Reign did their best attacking through the return of Jessia Fishlock or with long balls and struggled to build out of the back. That deficiency cost them a goal when Lindsay Elston’s attempt to play the ball forward went directly to Makenzy Doniak. The second-year midfielder drove down the right side and was able to deliver a cross on the ground that found Williams unmarked as too many Reign defenders dropped. Williams delivered a low shot that squirted off the hands of a diving Kopmeyer for what turned out to be the only goal of the evening. It was Williams’s 4th goal of the season.

The Reign were not without their chances though. In the 9th minute, Fishlock sent a long ball intended for Nahomi Kawasumi that took an awkward bounce off Abby Erceg and threatened to give Kawasumi an open look. But Katelyn Rowland was alert to the play and came all the way outside her box where she calmly headed the ball away. Rowland earned her 5th shutout from 8 appearances this season and lowered her goals against average to 0.38.

Early in the second half, Erceg fouled Fishlock to set up a dangerous free kick but Kawasumi was not able to put it on frame. In the 74th minute, substitute Katie Johnson hit a clever redirect of a Kawasumi cross but Rowland was in the right place to make an easy save.

But the Courage controlled far more of the match. Mewis looked like anything but a player who played two days ago in Los Angeles, teaming with McCall Zerboni to boss the midfield and keep the Reign defense on its heels. Dahlkemper and Smith helped keep the back four together as Dahlkemper unexpectedly extended her NWSL record streak of consecutive minutes played to 4,770.

The best chance for the Courage to double up came in the 53rd minute. Ashley Hatch dribbled on the left sideline and found Kristen Hamilton whose touch beat the Reign defense which had overloaded to that side. Doniak made a central run into open space and Hamilton found her for a private encounter with Haley Kopmeyer. But Doniak’s second touch missed altogether, forcing her to break momentum. Her shot eventually went high.

The Courage (10-5-0, 30 pts) became the first team to double digit wins this season and moved a point ahead of the Red Stars who drew in Orlando. They next play Thursday when they return to Kansas City to make up the match abandoned for poor weather on July 22. A return match in Seattle (6-4-6, 24 pts) follows next Sunday. The reign remain a point ahead of Sky Blue FC for the final playoff spot with a match in hand.

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