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Red Stars once again score three to down Courage

For the second time in less than a week, the Chicago Red Stars (4-2-1, 13 points) scored three goals to defeat the top-ranked North Carolina Courage (5-3-0, 15 points), 3-2.

It was also the second time in two matches the top-ranked North Carolina Courage saw themselves facing off against the No. 2 team in the league. On Wednesday night the Courage defeated then-No. 2 Sky Blue FC, and the loss knocked the New Jersey side down to third place because of goal differential. That meant the Courage’s opponent today, the Chicago Red Stars, moved into second ahead of today’s rematch.

However, unlike Wednesday night, a loss would not drop the Courage from the top of the table, as they entered today’s match with a comfortable five-point lead over the second-place Chicago Red Stars. Good thing since, also unlike Wednesday night, they would not walk away the victor.

The two teams were pretty evenly matched throughout the entire competition, splitting possession 50/50 and with Chicago only leading in shots and shots on goal by one. The even competition of the match resulted in an exciting 90 minutes full of quality back-and-forth, multiple near chances, and five goals between the two sides.

Chicago struck first in the 27th minute on a play that started all the way back with goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher. Through a series of passes, the ball made its way up to Christen Press, who sent a pass up to Arin Gilliland where she had pushed high into the Red Stars’ attacking third. Gilliland was being marked closely, but she managed to cut back and shake off two Courage defenders and send a pass to Vanessa DiBernardo, who took one quick touch to lay the ball off to Danielle Colaprico. Colaprico took a touch with her right foot to prevent Sam Witteman from turning it over before shooting with her left, putting the ball past Courage keeper Sabrina D’Angelo for the game’s opening goal.

Following Colaprico’s goal, the physicality increased on the field as Yuri Kawamura first went tumbling to the ground, followed by Julie Ertz colliding with Taylor Smith on a challenge. Ertz also hit the pitch after she seemed to have rolled her ankle but was soon back up and walking gingerly on her own. Kawamura stayed down, though, before being assisted off the pitch, putting no weight on her right leg. Paul Riley was forced to use his first sub early, replacing the injured midfielder with Debinha, who had started on the bench to rest following Wednesday night’s match.

The Red Stars carried their 1-0 lead into first-half stoppage time, and it appeared they’d take it with them into the locker room as well. However, just before the halftime whistle blew, Sam Mewis went to the far corner flag to take a Courage corner kick. Her ball found Abby Erceg, whose height and ability to get free in traffic makes her a dangerous target on set pieces, and Erceg put a fast header past Alyssa Naeher to level the score just before halftime.

Although a last-second goal would have given almost any team a much-needed lift going into the second half, that would not be the case for the Courage. Even with Jess McDonald entering the game for Sam Witteman (Taylor Smith pushed back into Witteman’s vacated spot at RB), the added attacking manpower would not work to the Courage’s advantage as the Red Stars came out hot.

Less than 10 minutes into the second half, the Red Stars would strike again. Press chipped the ball in front of goal, and Alyssa Mautz was able to outjump D’Angelo, who came off her line to try to collect, and head the ball into the back of the net to see Chicago retake the lead.

DiBernardo added a goal to the assist she had previously tallied during the match in the 60th minute. Erceg miscleared the ball, sending it right to Ertz in space, who reared back and took a shot, only to have it deflected off of Sam Mewis and roll right to DiBernardo’s feet. DiBernardo took one touch to get into better shooting position and sent her shot into the upper 90 to extend Chicago’s lead.

Shortly after Chicago’s third goal, some drama broke out on the sidelines as Courage assistant coach Scott Vallow, who has acted as head coach multiple times–including during the 2016 NWSL Final–when Paul Riley was suspended, was involved in an incident near the team benches and was ejected from the game.

The off-field drama did not affect what was happening on the field though, and the Courage continued trying to narrow the gap. Lynn Williams nearly did just that in the 74th minute, sending in a shot off another North Carolina set piece. Her shot was placed perfectly to beat Naeher but not Danielle Colaprico, who launched her 5’3” body into the air to head Williams’ shot out of danger for a critical goal-line clearance.

The Red Stars would not be as lucky on another set piece that was awarded to the Courage after Sofia Huerta was called for a handball dangerously close to goal. Mewis and Debinha both stood over the ball before Mewis pretended to start a run to take the kick, only for Debinha to quickly take the free kick instead. Debinha sent in a well-placed shot that sailed over the wall and curled inside of the far post and into the back of the net to make it a one-point game.

Debinha’s goal would not be enough, though, and the Courage would once again suffer defeat at the hands of the Chicago Red Stars. After starting the season with a four-game win streak, North Carolina has now lost three of its last four matches.

The Courage will next return home to Sahlen’s Stadium, where they will take on FC Kansas City in the Lifetime Game of the Week on Saturday, June 3 at 3:30 p.m. EST. Chicago remains at home and will take on Seattle Reign FC on Sunday, June 4 at 3 p.m. EST.

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