Crystal Dunn has tied Christine Sinclair for the NWSL scoring lead with seven goals apiece. (David Richard-USA TODAY Sports)
CARY, N.C. – Crystal Dunn scored the first goal for the North Carolina Courage, which won its third consecutive game as it defeated the Chicago Red Stars at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park Wednesday night.
Dunn, a Rockville Centre, N.Y. native, scored her seventh of the season, which moved her into a tie with Portland’s Christine Sinclair for the National Women’s Soccer League lead.
Lynn Williams, Debinha and Kristen Hamilton tallied in the game, which also included former U.S. national team standout and UNC-Chapel Hill alumna Heather O’Reilly’s club debut.
The Courage improved to 12-1-3, extending its lead atop the league table to 16 points over second-place Seattle.
“Delighted with the result. It’s nice to score some goals at home, too,” Courage head coach Paul Riley said. “We haven’t scored a ton of goals at home, and we created some great chances second half. The quality of football was good.”
After both teams had great chances to open the scoring in the opening minutes – Jessica McDonald and Williams each nearly converted early chances – Dunn put the Courage on the board with a moment of brilliance in the 20th minute.
With room to dribble, Dunn received a pass from McDonald and made a run toward the edge of the penalty area before letting loose on a left-footed shot goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher could do nothing about.
Chicago’s Samantha Kerr hit the crossbar on a breakaway in the ninth minute.
The Courage controlled much of the action and was rewarded in the 67th minute when Williams curled a shot from the center of the 18-yard box into the upper right corner after receiving a low-to-the-ground cross from Merritt Mathias.
Two minutes later, Debinha scored her second goal in as many games, chipping Chicago’s Naeher after receiving a perfect through ball from Samantha Mewis. Mewis had entered the match less than two minutes prior.
O’Reilly entered the match in the 75th minute to much applause.
“It’s really special for me to be back,” O’Reilly said. “This is a special field for me: I won the national championship here in 2006 and played plenty of times besides that here on this field with the national team and UNC. Unbelievable win. This team is special, coach is special, the group is special.
“When the North Carolina Courage announced they were going to have a team last season, it was right around when I was deciding to go to Arsenal. I knew that was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up, but I also knew in my heart that I would be back here.”
North Carolina added a fourth goal in the 87th minute when Hamilton, on as a sub, scored her second goal of the season on an empty-netter following a cross from Williams, who maneuvered past Naeher after the goalkeeper ventured well off her line to try to gather a loose ball.
Three minutes into stoppage time, Chicago avoided the shutout with a penalty kick by Yuki Nagasato.
The Courage will play its third and final regular-season match with the Washington Spirit on Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET.