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North Carolina Courage close out record-setting NWSL regular season

The North Carolina Courage ended the 2018 National Women’s Soccer League regular season in fitting fashion, with a record-breaking 5-0 victory Saturday against the Houston Dash.

The Courage (17-1-6, 57 points) set a club record for goals in a match and set league records for wins (17), regular-season points (57) and regular-season goals (53). They also enter the postseason ranked No. 1 in the standings and 15 points ahead of No. 2 Portland. The Dash (9-10-5, 32 points) finished sixth out of nine teams total.

North Carolina will host the No. 4 Chicago Red Stars in a semifinal match at 3 p.m. ET Sept. 16. ESPN2 will broadcast the game. The other semifinal between Portland and the No. 3 Seattle Reign will kick off at 3 p.m. ET Saturday and air on Lifetime.

“Hats off to them. They set a big mark, I think, for the league in the future in a lot of different ways. I just said to them, ‘It’s not an easy thing to do,’ to do what they’ve done this season,” Courage head coach Paul Riley said in a statement released by the team.

Lynn Williams handed the Courage the league’s scoring record in the 43rd minute with the third goal of the night, which pushed North Carolina past the 2014 Seattle Reign’s 50 regular-season goals. That Seattle team also previously held the records for regular-season wins (16) and points (54). 

It was William’s team-high 13th goal of the season, and she scored her 14th in the 57th minute. Forward Jessica McDonald assisted both goals, finishing the season with a league-high eight assists. 

“That shows you how phenomenal of a team we have – how amazing our culture is at the end of the day, how hard we’re willing to work for each other,” said McDonald, who also scored the game’s opening goal off an Abby Erceg assist in the 13th minute. “All the hard work we’ve truly put into this season, we’ve deserved it.”

The other goals were scored unassisted by Crystal Dunn and Kristen Hamilton — who found the back of the net less than four minutes after subbing on for Denise O’Sullivan — in the 26th and 70th minutes, respectively. 

Courage goalkeeper Katelyn Rowland made four saves to earn the shutout and give the team its 11th clean sheet of the season.

The Courage also set a club record for attendance. An announced crowd of 9,505 attended the match Saturday, which was part of a doubleheader featuring an earlier United Soccer League 3-3 draw between North Carolina FC and Nashville SC. 
  
Lineups:

NCC (4-4-2): Katelyn Rowland; Jaelene Hinkle, Abby Erceg ©, Abby Dahlkemper, Merritt Mathias; Debinha, Denise O’Sullivan (Kristen Hamilton, 67’), Samantha Mewis, Crystal Dunn (Meredith Speck, 78‘); Lynn Williams (Heather O’Reilly, 67’), Jessica McDonald

Subs not used: Sabrina D’Angelo, Cari Roccaro, Kaleigh Kurtz, Darian Jenkins
 
HOU (4-3-3): Jane Campbell; Taylor Comeau, Amber Brooks, Janine Van Wyk (Kyah Simon, 87’), Lindsay Agnew (Kimberly Keever, 66’); Linda Motihalo, Sofia Huerta, Haley Hanson; Kealia Ohai ©, Rachel Daly, Veronica Latsko (Nichelle Prince, 66’)

Subs not used: Sammy Jo Prudhomme, Thembi Kgatlana, Savannah Jordan

Goals:
NCC: Jessica McDonald (Abby Erceg, 13’), Crystal Dunn (Unassisted, 26’), Lynn Williams (Jessica McDonald, 44’), Lynn Williams (Jessica McDonald, 57’), Kristen Hamilton (Unassisted, 70’)

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