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Hamilton nets four as NC Courage storm past Houston Dash

Kristen Hamilton tied an NWSL record Friday night, scoring four goals to lead the NC Courage over the Houston Dash.

Kristen Hamilton celebrates with her NC Courage teammates at WakeMed Soccer Park on July 5, 2019 after scoring against the Houston Dash. (Mitchell Northam / Pro Soccer USA)

CARY, N.C. — The North Carolina Courage saved all of its fireworks for the day after July 4 and the orchestrator of the booming display was Kristen Hamilton.

The 27-year-old forward for the Courage tied a National Women’s Soccer League record Friday night at WakeMed Soccer Park, netting four goals to lead her team to a 5-2 win over the visiting Houston Dash in front of an announced crowd of 5,066 fans.

“Tonight, we put the ball in the net,” Courage head coach Paul Riley said. “Hamilton was on fire. We thought Hamilton and Lynn Williams would cause a lot of trouble, which they did.”

It was the second multi-goal performance of the season for “Hat Trick Hammy,” who tallied three scores in a win over the Orlando Pride on June 1. Hamilton now has seven goals on the season, putting her in second – only behind Chicago’s Sam Kerr – in the NWSL’s Golden Boot race.

In the absence of attacking players like Crystal Dunn and Jessica McDonald, who are still with the U.S. at the World Cup in France, Hamilton and Lynn Williams have carried the scoring load for the Courage (5-4-2), who are now in second place in the NWSL table. Williams scored the other goal for the Courage on Friday night and also provided the assist on Hamilton’s third strike.

“I think as I continue to play with the players I’m playing with, having the World Cup players gone, we’ve been pretty consistent with the group of players that we have. I’ve just continued to get more and more comfortable with them,” Hamilton said. “We have really good chemistry on the field. Lynn and I are playing well together, (Debinha) and I are playing well together, (Leah Pruitt) and I. The chemistry has just continued to build off that.”

Hamilton nearly scored her first goal of the night within the first 20 seconds of the match. A teammate intercepted an errant Houston (3-4-4) pass and flicked it forward to her. She sprinted past three defenders, but was then halted by Dash goalkeeper Jane Campbell.

“I’m bummed about that still,” Hamilton admitted, with a laugh.

No matter, Hamilton would get one past Campbell less than five minutes later. Courage fullback Merritt Mathias sprinted down the right flank before playing a hard and low cross into the box to Hamilton, who slotted it into the goal. It was the third assist of the season for Mathias.

In the 18th minute, Hamilton was the recipient of another assist from a Courage fullback. This time, from the left side, Jaelene Hinkle played a long ball to Hamilton from midfield. Hamilton dashed into it, danced around Clare Polkinghorne and fired a shot from the edge of the box that banged into the back of the net. It was the fourth assist of the season for Hinkle.

“We’ve worked a lot with our outside backs recently,” Hamilton said. “This week had been kind of focused on them and their performance and them getting up the field. Paul actually showed us a huge, long clip of Liverpool’s outside backs and all of their assists that they’ve had. So, we’ve been working on it. Understanding when they’re going to cross the ball and where it’s going to go.”

Added Riley: “Jaelene Hinkle was outstanding tonight. The best left back in the country proved her worth.”

Kristen Hamilton scored four goals as the North Carolina Courage beat the Houston Dash on July 5, 2019 at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C. (Mitchell Northam / Pro Soccer USA)

Houston notched two scores in the first half that exposed the Courage’s patchwork backline. The defending champs are still without U.S. national team centerback Abby Dahlkemper, and Abby Erceg missed this game to nurse a right lower leg injury. For the Dash, Kristie Mewis scored after a trap in the 24th minute and Kyah Simon sped by the Courage’s defense for a score in the 43rd minute.

To make it 3-2 for the Courage heading into halftime, Williams received a ball from Denise O’Sullivan and then ran by three Dash defenders and chipped a ball over Campbell in the 31st minute for her first goal since May 12. Williams is the only NWSL player with four goals and four assists this season.

Hamilton went back to setting off fireworks in the second half. In the 54th minute, she took a pass from Williams, stepped around Allysha Chapman and fired a low shot past a diving Campbell. Hamilton found the back of the net again in the 71st minute after she corralled a short feed from Debinha, created space and launched a low roller by Campbell.

Williams’ assist to Hamilton was the 23rd of her NWSL career, which is the most all-time by a single player in the league’s short history.

The Courage were able to keep Houston off the scoreboard in the second half thanks to a little halftime motivation and tactical changes from Riley. He took off forward Leah Pruitt in favor of a more midfield-oriented player in Lauren Milliet, which helped push the Dash’s attacks towards the touchlines. It was Milliet’s professional debut, as the second-round draft pick from Colorado College played 45 minutes.

“We felt that (Houston’s) two 6’s were getting too open. We stopped the service in the second half a little bit better and forced them into the wider channels, which is a little bit better for us,” Riley said. “We thought (Pruitt) struggled with the press and it was better to get Lauren in. She’s got a little bit more pace. She knows the midfield a little bit better and she did a better job than Leah on the defensive side of the ball.”

The Courage will host Reign FC next Saturday, looking for their third win in a row and fifth straight unbeaten performance. And while that’s nearly a week after the World Cup final, those absent from Riley’s lineup might still not be in it. Brazilian midfielder Debinha is the only World Cup player who has returned to the Courage lineup, while Canadian goalkeeper Steph Labbe was in the match-day 18 Friday night.

“All the World Cup players are going to need time coming back,” Riley said. “You might see this lineup for a while… Mentally, physically, it’s a lot to ask the players to come back and play immediately. We’re going to have to take our time.”

Riley said the earliest the U.S. national team players would return to the lineup is on July 21, in a road game against the Chicago Red Stars.

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