It was the rubber match between the two sides as both have claimed a victory in the regular season series, and the third meeting went to the champs, who beat Reign FC 0-1.
It didn’t take long into the match for the defending champs to play their familiar songs of control the midfield and utilize their speed to have Reign FC on the defense. Absorbing every threatening run North Carolina put up, Vlatko Andonovski’s squad was able to maintain their composure. As the saying goes, bend but don’t break is exactly what Reign FC did in that first half, highlighted by superhuman saves by goalkeeper Casey Murphy.
There two notable instances where Murphy stopped North Carolina’s efforts to find the back of the net, both against Brazilian midfielder Debinha.
The first came in the 40th minute when Debinha took the free kick for North Carolina that was screaming towards goal, but Murphy got her fingers on it and the deflection then smacked off the crossbar.
Then two minutes later, Debinha fired off another shot that once again Murphy got enough of a touch on to keep it out of the back of the net.
Despite North Carolina registering 18 shots in the first, only three were on target and the first half would be scoreless.
The second half saw the number of shots by North Carolina dial down a smidge, but the reigning champs would ultimately get on the scoreboard.
North Carolina found their only and match-winning goal in the 82nd minute when Crystal Dunn sent in a low cross that found Lynn Williams just shy of the six-yard box and an easy finish past Murphy for the goal.
82' Goal, North Carolina Courage.— Ride of the Valkyries (@rovalks) August 25, 2019
The hosts kept knocking and finally they broke through courtesy of this Crystal Dunn cross that Lynn Williams connects on to get past Casey Murphy. -sigh- #NCvRFC pic.twitter.com/kAb5ZnEWYV
Reign FC’s chances to strike North Carolina’s goal were at a premium as North Carolina’s smothering high press made it a tough one for them to break through and really test Courage goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé.
The loss keeps Reign FC at 27 points, just a point behind Utah Royals FC who claim the fourth spot on the league table, the final playoff qualification spot. Utah is off this weekend and results elsewhere around the league won’t have Reign FC losing their fifth place spot. Though needless to say, with six matches left, there absolutely is no room for error — Reign FC need to get back on the winning side of things.
Reign FC are off next week as the entire league hits the pause button in recognition of the FIFA international break. Their next match is, however, back in the comfy confines of Cheney Stadium, as they will host the Orlando Pride on Saturday, September 7. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 PM PST.