Sam Mewis scored a brace including the game-winner in the minutes after Katelyn Rowland made two spectacular saves and the Courage became just the third team to win away at Memorial Stadium, 2-1 over the Reign. Rumi Utsugi’s equalizer made it 27 consecutive regular season home matches with a goal for the Reign, but their stunning mark at Memorial fell to 27-3-12 (plus 2-0-0 in the playoffs) and they remain two points behind the Orlando Pride for the league’s final playoff berth. Meanwhile the Courage won for the third time in eight days and are now five points clear of the Thorns for the NWSL Shield.
The Reign were shorthanded as well. Megan Rapinoe missed the first of what is expected to be about five weeks after minor knee surgery and Jessica Fishlock was not available for personal reasons. The Courage also made a change, bringing Jessica McDonald back into the starting lineup for Makenzy Doniak meaning that McDonald, Lynn Williams, and a more withdrawn Ashley Hatch all started together. Debinha remained on the bench in her second game back from Tournament of Nations.
The visitors took the lead 24 minutes in. Jaelene Hinkle hustled to keep possession after Mewis’s pass went behind her. Hinkle then played it up the left side to McDonald who was picked up by Rebekah Stott. McDonald hit a less than perfect cross but Williams made an alert play to knock it down and over to Mewis. The first-time shot by Mewis beat a diving Reign keeper Haley Kopmeyer as she dove left.
The equalizer happened in the 40th minute after a display of patented Reign football. The decisive moment was Merritt Mathias dribbling up the right side and beating Hatch to enter the attacking third. The possession drew the attention of Hinkle but no one picked up Lindsay Elston making a run into space deep on the right side. Elston’s cross to the far post was perfectly timed to sync with Utsugi’s run and the Japanese midfielder knocked it in to send the teams to the break 1-1.
Thursday’s makeup match in Kansas City looked as if it was catching up to the Courage midway through the second half and it took Rowland to keep them on level terms. In the 65th minute Lauren Barnes tried to connect with her central defense partner Kristen McNabb on an offensive foray. The ball was inches too far for McNabb but Nahomi Kawasumi followed the play to the far post. Rowland followed it too and was able to stop Kawasumi cold from point-blank range.
In the 68th, Mathias made her presence known again with a cross from the right side. Beverly Yanez reached out and poked it toward goal. With Elston bearing down, Rowland was able to secure the ball and turn play the other way.
Six minutes later the Courage won an innocuous looking throw-in when Barnes knocked the ball away from Doniak who had checked in as a sub. Hatch took the throw-in which Mewis won in the air. McNabb made a poor clearance which went back to Mewis. Kopmeyer slid behind her defenders which left the near post open and Mewis took advantage by burying her second of the night .
The Courage (12-5-0, 36 pts) now lead the Thorns by 5 points for the Shield and the Reign by 12 for the playoffs. The Pride, in 4th, still have a lower ceiling of points and the Courage can officially clinch a playoff spot with a combination of 9 points gained or lost by the Pride. Their next match in Saturday at home against the Spirit.
The Reign (6-5-6, 24 pts) trail the Pride by 2 points for the last playoff spot but have a match in hand. They hit the road for away matches on Wednesday in Chicago and Saturday at Sky Blue FC.