Jessica McDonald scored in injury time for North Carolina. (Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports)
CARY, N.C. – The promise of a new season brought only heart-break for Sky Blue FC in its National Women’s Soccer League season opener Saturday afternoon.
Forward Jessica McDonald scored in the second minute of stoppage time to lift the North Carolina Courage to a 1-0 victory over the Jersey side at WakeMed Soccer Park.
The Courage outshot the visitors, 22-3, before a crowd of 4,078.
“I felt that we did really well in the first half. We were able to possess the ball for longer periods of time, and we prevented them from getting behind our back line,” Sky Blue FC head coach Denis Reddy said. “In the second half, we lost some of our rhythm and were unable to keep possession as long. We spent so much time defending that we started to get ourselves pinned back a bit.”
On the game=winning goal, Jaelene Hinkle raced through the midfield before sending a ball to McDonald that split two defenders as she ran into the box. McDonald touched the ball right and forced goalkeeper …. Kailen Sheridan off her line. As the visitors’ backline sped back to recover, McDonald found herself with enough space to cut a ball towards the target and into the goal.
“The game grinds on, you think to yourself maybe we’re not going to get that one big opportunity,” Courage head coach Paul Riley said. “I think they worked hard enough to win in the end, and we got the opportunity.”
The opening half displayed some spirited competition between the two sides. Sky Blue FC saw the better of the possession, while North Carolina held the shot advantage. Using quick passes to move the ball upfield, the New Jersey team did well in the middle of the park and created some opportunities.
In the 54th minute, the Courage nearly broke the deadlock when Crystal Dunn sent a ball into space for a racing Kristen Hamilton that played her into a 1 v 1 situation with Sheridan. The Canada international came off her line to close down the angle. That forced Hamilton to slightly rush her shot as it the post.
The Courage continued to press with Sheridan and the Sky Blue FC back line doing well to keep the net clean until stoppage time.
Following a FIFA break next weekend, Sky Blue FC will host Seattle Reign FC for a p.m. kickoff in its home opener at Yurcak Field on Sunday, April 15.
90+2 NC Jessica McDonald (Jaelene Hinkle)
NJ: Sheridan, Freeman, Stott, Skroski, Gibbons, Beckie (Meehan-69), Killion, Lloyd, McCaskill, Johnson (Leon-58), Groom (Abam-78)
Subs not used: Casey, Mills, Hoy
Head Coach: Denise Reddy
NC: D’Angelo, Hinkle, Erceg, Dahlkemper, Mathias, O’Sullivan (Speck-79), Zerboni, Hamilton (McDonald-55), Williams, Debinha (Jenkins-86), Dunn
Subs Not Used: Chapman, Rowland, Crouse, Kurtz
Head Coach: Paul Riley
Stats Summary: NC / NJ
Shots: 23 / 3
Saves: 0 / 4
Corner Kicks: 5 / 3
Fouls: 6 / 7
Offside: 3 / 2
66 NJ Christina Gibbons
86 NJ Rebekah Stott
Referee: Danielle Chesky
Assistant Referee 1: Jennifer Garner
Assistant Referee 2: Jordan Davis
Fourth Official: Forrest Ambrose
Woman of the match: Erica Skroski