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How the Courage flipped the switch to clinch another NWSL Shield

Photo Copyright Lewis Gettier for The Equalizer

It’s halftime on a sunny, late-summer day in Piscataway, New Jersey, and the North Carolina Courage are tied with Sky Blue FC, 1-1.

The Courage are the defending National Women’s Soccer League champions but are caught in the quagmire of what looks like the closest playoff race since the league’s inaugural season, in 2013. They enter the Sept. 7 weekend sitting in third place, and the trip to face one the league’s bottom-dwelling teams offers a chance to climb the table.

Reality, however, sees the Courage put together perhaps their worst 45 minutes of the season, a lethargic, sloppy display highlighted by poor turnovers, a penalty kick conceded, and a fluky Sky Blue own goal in the opening minute. This game – these next 45 minutes – are another in a series of inflection points for a team which marched unfazed through a near-perfect season in 2018.

“I hammered them at halftime of Sky Blue,” Courage coach Paul Riley told The Equalizer this week. “First time in three years I’ve really got into them and lit them up. I was really disappointed with the performance. I always base everything on the performances, not on the result. The result wasn’t bad at halftime – it was 1-1 – but how we got to 1-1 at halftime was almost a miracle. And I think that 10, 15 minutes at halftime might have changed our season.”

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