CARY, N.C. — The rain started at halftime. Lightning struck in the 51st minute. And when the players from Sky Blue FC and the North Carolina Courage went into the locker room to wait out the storm at 8:16 p.m. ET, the game was scoreless.
It remained that way after the two sides returned to the pitch to finish the saturated contest. None of the Courage’s 28 shots snuck past Sky Blue goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan and, likewise, no Sky Blue shot-takers fired one out of reach for Stephanie Labbe.
After 91 minutes of play, broken up by a weather delay that lasted 90 minutes, North Carolina and Sky Blue finished the match in a 0-0 draw on a soaked pitch at WakeMed Soccer Park in front of an announced crowd of 5,039 damp fans.
Playing its first of several games this season without four starters – who are being borrowed by U.S. women’s national team coach Jill Ellis for a pretty important thing called the World Cup – the Courage’s attack seemed disjointed at times throughout the contest. Like the heavy rain falling on the pitch, the Courage fired a flurry of shots toward Sky Blue’s net, but when the two sides left the pitch to take cover from the storm, the Courage had only put two shots on frame and three others dinged off the woodwork.
After the break, the Courage put just one more shot on target, but it was gobbled up by Sheridan, who tallied three saves and one punch-away. In the 88th minute, Kaleigh Kurtz – starting in place of departed American centerback Abby Dahlkemper – fired in a threatening cross from the right wing, but it was claimed by Sheridan’s mitts.
We've got an ol' fashioned KEEPER DANCE OFF happening tonight. @stephlabbe1 💃
— NWSL (@NWSL) May 5, 2019
In addition to their misfired bombardment against the Sky Blue goal, the Courage also took aim from 15 corner kicks, but none found a friendly foot or head to guide the ball into the back of the net. The Courage also controlled 59 percent of possession, were accurate on 78 percent of their passes and won 49 percent of their duels.
While the Courage took a point in the match, it was apparent that, indeed, something was missing. Perhaps it was the building of Dahlkemper, the play-making of Crystal Dunn, the reliability of Sam Mewis in the midfield or the in-the-box threat of Jessica McDonald.
Whatever the Courage had lost from those four players, they never found a way to replace it on Saturday.
And although Sky Blue fired just seven shots, it nearly won.
In the 91st minute, Labbe was drawn off her line and Sky Blue’s Imani Dorsey played a ball into what seemed like an open net, but Courage right back Merritt Mathias slid in front of the net and halted the ball just before it crossed the line.
It was the highlight of the night for the Courage and Mathias, who had a stellar game. The 27-year-old 5-foot-6 defender from Birmingham, Alabama created three chances, notched a tackle, won two fouls and was accurate on 80 percent of her passes.
Lynn Williams led the Courage in chances created with four, while Debinha – making her first start of the season – took a team-high eight shots. Destroying opponents in the midfield, Denise O’Sullivan had four tackles for the home side.
The roster will continue to turnover for Courage coach Paul Riley as more players leave for the World Cup. This match was the last for Labbe, who will leave the club this week to join Canada. Debinha will be with the Courage for two more matches before joining Brazil, while New Zealand’s Abby Erceg will be with the Courage through the end of May.
Next up for the Courage is a trip to Chicago to face the Red Stars May 12.