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Sky Blue hand Courage first shutout of season

Sky Blue FC (6-6-1, 19 points) defeated the North Carolina Courage (8-4-0, 24 points), 1-0, handing them their first shutout of the 2017 season and nabbing three points on the road. With the win Sky Blue moves back into playoff contention right at the season’s halfway point, while the Courage remain in first place. 

The two teams last met on May 24, a midweek match that the Courage easily won, 2-0. That result combined with their spot at the top of the table and Wednesday night resting (while Sky Blue suffered a grueling midweek loss to the Orlando Pride) to make them the clear favorites over Sky Blue. However, the New Jersey side was the more dominant team for much of the match, surprising many people around the league.

However, Injuries were a undoubtedly a factor in the Courage’s disappointing result today. Regular starters Lynn Williams and Jaelene Hinkle were out with injuries, and Jessica McDonald started on the bench after missing the last three games for the Courage with a hamstring strain. In comparison, Erica Skroski returned to the XI for Sky Blue after being sidelined for the last three weeks with a bone bruise. 

Injuries further weakened North Carolina when Kristen Hamilton had to be subbed off in the first half with what appeared to be a hamstring injury. Sky Blue also had to burn a substitution early though when Erin Simon re-aggravated an ankle injury and had to come off in just the 23rd minute. Simon was seen coming out of the locker room at halftime wearing a walking boot, but it was said that was a precautionary measure at the time.

The game remained scoreless going into the half despite a number of solid opportunities for both sides. Although the shutout was the first of the season for the Courage, it was the second for goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan. However, she had center back Christie Pearce to thank for that, as Pearce got her body in front of Makenzy Doniak’s shot in just the fourth minute to help Sheridan earn the clean sheet.

The Courage had another solid opportunity on goal in the 54th minute after Sheridan came off her line and took Sam Mewis out in the box. The result was a penalty kick being awarded to the Courage, and Mewis stepped to the spot to take it. However, her attempt lacked much gusto, and Sheridan was easily able to collect.

When McDonald made her return for the Courage in the second half, she immediately made her presence felt, earning just the second Courage corner all day. That corner kick was played right to McDonald’s head, but she sent it just high off the crossbar.

In the 84th minute, Leah Galton made a beautiful run down the left flank, beating two Courage players to go to the endline. She then crossed the ball to Maya Hayes, who put just enough touch on the ball to redirect it away right to where Sam Kerr was standing completely unmarked in front of an empty net. The Australian international, who was just named NWSL Player of the Month for the second consecutive month, knocked the ball easily into the back of the net for yet another game winner.

Sky Blue will next return home to New Jersey, where they will once again host FC Kansas City on July 8 at 7 p.m. ET. North Carolina also takes the field on July 8 as they take on the Seattle Reign. Kickoff for that match is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET.

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