PISCATAWAY, N.J. — A second-half goal from Crystal Dunn allowed a dominant North Carolina Courage to take home three points, beating Sky Blue FC 2-1 Saturday at Yurcak Field.
The Courage’s go-ahead goal came when Dunn score in the 57th minute. The play began with Kristen Hamilton making her way around a Sky Blue defender on the right side of the penalty area. Near the endline, she sent the ball toward Dunn, who scored from the center of the penalty box.
The Courage initially took a 1-0 lead in the opening minute of the match. An awkward clearance from Sky Blue’s Erica Skroski found its way in the bottom left corner of the net for an own goal. The score surprised goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan, who believed the play had ended with the ball outside the net and only discovering it was inside when she went to pick it up.
“I thought it was unlucky, their first goal,” Sky Blue’s Carli Lloyd said following the match. “Actually, honestly, it didn’t even look like it went in. It was very bizarre.”
Despite an early lead, the Courage had difficulty maintaining. Though the opening minutes saw the visitors get close to goal on multiple opportunities, Sky Blue quickly made its way into the match and soon became just as active as the Courage on attack. That play was rewarded with an equalizer in the 14th minute.
The goal came courtesy of a penalty kick taken by Lloyd, the team’s usual penalty taker. The referee awarded the penalty after Courage defender Abby Dahlkemper took down Paige Monaghan in the box.
“One of my teammates played me through,” Monaghan said. “I was just trying to get [to the] endline for either a shot or cut back, and then I just got pulled down by their defender, so I took the foul and then Carli stepped up and nailed it.”
The remainder of the first half played out similarly, with the teams trading meaningful spells of possession and shots. A Lloyd effort in the 20th minute from the edge of the penalty area hit the crossbar before going out. The scoreline was even at 1-1 at halftime.
“Their energy level first half was good,” Courage coach Paul Riley said of Sky Blue. “The passing was good. They caused us a lot of problems. Paige Monahan, [Jen] Hoy and Carli caused a lot of problems in the first half. We got caught in the transition a lot.”
The second half, though, was fully dominated by the Courage. After Dunn’s game-winner, the visitors began a consistent search for a third goal, switching up the attack to bring on forwards Debinha and Jessica McDonald and midfielder Heather O’Reilly. The goal never did come because Sheridan enjoyed another day of consistent saves for Sky Blue.
“Second half, I just don’t think we performed well, unfortunately,” Monaghan said. “What was working for us the first half, we kind of turned away from and they took advantage of that.”
As has frequently been the case this season, Sky Blue found a few late opportunities, including one from Raquel Rodriguez during stoppage time. But in the end, the Courage successfully stifled Sky Blue for the 2-1 victory.
“Second half was great reaction from the team,” Riley said. “We came out second half, pinned them in really for the entire 45 minutes.”
The result leaves the Courage second in the National Women’s Soccer League rankings, two points behind the league-leading Portland Thorns. Sky Blue stays eighth on the table and 13 points out of a playoff spot before the weekend’s other matches.